JON MACNAIR

   

The following article was published in N-SPHERE September 2012 issue.

 

Name: Jon Macnair

Location: Portland, Oregon, USA

Occupation: Artist/Illustrator

Definition of personal sphere: My work is a conglomeration of different influences and inspirations that have accumulated in my brain since I was a little kid. It’s hard to define all those exactly, or rather, it would take a long time. All those things have been filtered through my eyes and the way in which I view the world. The end result is my artwork. I don’t expect people to fully understand my art, what it means or why I do it. If I knew the answers to those questions, I probably wouldn’t be creating things in the first place. Making art is what I love to do, and I don’t like to over analyze it. I try to avoid measuring success in monetary terms or fame, but more so whether people can connect with the work and get something from it, whatever that may be.

Artwork in 4 words: Narrative, mythic, ominous, otherworldly

What is inspirational for you: Nature, myths, imaginary creatures, ancient civilizations, Renaissance art, surrealism

Currently favourite artists: Harry Clarke, Alfred Kubin, John Vassos

Tools of trade: Pen, ink, brush, paper, watercolors, pencil

Current obsessions: Russian fairy tales, Bela Bartok, terrariums

Personal temptation: Bookstores

Ingress: jonmacnair.com

Artwork: Jon Macnair. 2008. No Bad Deed Goes Unpunished. Courtesy of the artist.

Full article here.

KONSTANTIN LOPUSHANSKI

   

The following article was published in N-SPHERE September 2012 issue.

 

I have seen Letters from a dead man (1986) by Russian director Konstantin Lopushanski after a brief review exchange of messages what some call »posthumanism« and I may say it was an inspired choice.

Konstantin Lopushanski‘s full length debut is a post-apocalyptic tale revolving around a small group of »temporary survivors« living in a museum bunker (interesting location and I will get back to you on that). Of course, dozens of films revolving around apocalypse have been made, some of which I have seen, some of which I have not and many of which I don’t intend to, but none of them caught my attention as this one did.

First of all, unlike other films I have seen, revolving around the same topic, Letters from a dead man is strikingly realistic. Many of them claim and even seem, but there is always something »prefabricated« about them (either the annoyingly pompous soundtrack, some unnecessary love-stories or an even more annoying over-dramatization). Lopushanski has made a deliberately depressive and…oppressive motion picture that takes away all the »little joys« and yet, prevents you from walking away (unless of course, this kind of films are not your taste. Somehow, it is quite predictable, because, as I said before, everything in this film is extremely believable, starting with the characters. There are no prophets here, no misunderstood geniuses, no strange beauties, but ordinary people put face to face with an extreme situation. And this is  what makes the film effective.

This is not to say that Letters from a dead man (or any other  Lopushanski film) lacks its poetry or its spiritual dimension, but whereas in Tarkovskys case, for example, such notions are coined simply to describe his films’ approach, here the poetic tone is far more discreet. I chose Tarkovsky for two obvious reasons: it is impossible not to see similarities between the works of the two directors and also Lopushanski assisted on the filming of Stalker.

In both Lopushanski and Tarkovsky‘s films spirituality goes hand in hand with religion and actually one can say that they form a single organism and I feel it would be the right moment to make several distinctions here. People often misunderstood and misused religion so when one would hear that a certain director’s movies are »deeply religious«, one would most likely tend to get the wrong impression.

Throughout history, some religions were used as socio-political weapons: some people were told what to or (more precisely) not to embrace and some others were busy making those lists. And moving further with this, some people believed that those giving orders had the voice of »god« inside them, others felt/knew/stated that this was all a charade. Given this particular equation, some people will consider their religion to be their god’s hand at work, others will believe that it is just another word for keeping people in line, making them easier to manipulate. (ironically, you don’t have to create a story to do this, not now at least, and I’m sure that then there were also simpler ways. There is always the nice lady telling you what to buy and so forth). What is missing from the sentences above? Amusingly enough, religion. Cause neither of cases deals with religion actually, but with some decisions being made by a group of people. I believe that the only viable starting point is history and not the one you were taught as a young lad, not history as a series of notable events with time-stamp markers. But history as a »museum« if you may. One that is timeless and encapsulates our »spirit«. In this case, religion is not longer this bureaucratic or political, not at all, in this case we have stories and symbols that best describe a group of people. In my opinion, religion was never about what was should or should not do, was never about one being blindly obedient to an a priori entity. People made it about that. I hardly believe that an entity beyond my powers of comprehension would need my obedience, as I hardly believe that a demiurge would sit and coach his own creation.

And this »timelessness« is what I have seen long ago in Tarkovsky‘s works (well, most of them) and what I am seeing in Lopushanski as well. Were it more »precise« than this, it would have been mechanical and meaningless.

I have mentioned early in the article that Letters from a dead man revolves around a group of people who survived after a nuclear meltdown (at least this is what it seems) and  living in a museum bunker. The location is not random and Lopushanski will use it again in his next feature film, Visitor of a museum which deals pretty much with the same topic. The museum in both cases acts as a portal, it is exactly the kind of »museum« I was talking about earlier.

There is another key element in the film: the children. They seem frail, but they display tremendous inner strength, in spite of having witnessed such atrocities. I wrote »key element« because for me. Letters from a dead man is not as pessimistic as it seems and even if nearly everything in the film seems to point towards imminent demise, the children carry out the hope that humanity will not end with this catastrophe. They are portrayed in a quiet manner, many things about them we hint and feel rather than see. There is also a strange, innate coldness about them somehow suggesting the idea of not being born(of course not to be taken literally, but rather by not being used to wallow in greed, vanity, cheap ideas and so forth). The same idea can be seen in Lopushanski‘s latest effort the 2006 adaptation of the Strugatsky brothers’ novel The Ugly Swans, but in this case everything is far more visible.

Returning to Letters…, the film is also a horrific future-mirror of a less-horrific present-world, a world currently ruled by greed, by excuses for greed, shallow punch lines and many other »beauties«. Actually, what is frightening about this film is that a catastrophe like the one there CAN actually HAPPEN.

All in all, Lopushanski is a worthwhile director, especially for those who admire Tarkovsky‘s work and are able to see the differences between the two, not only the similarities. I, for one, am eager to see the rest of his movies, because – so far – for me, they worked. Hopefully, they will work for you,  as well.

by Shade

photo | The Ugly Swans. 2006. Movie still

Full article here.

GEA*

   

The following article was published in N-SPHERE August 2012 issue.

 

Name: gea*

Location: New York

Occupation: Artist, pseudo UFOlogist, cinephile, cat friend person

Definition of personal sphere: The constant urge to create

Artwork in 4 words: Subconscious, undisciplined, pop, memoir

What is inspirational for you: Cinema, sweet sounds, never ceasing to learn, my friends, the ocean

Currently favourite artists: Ichiba Daisuke, Trevor Brown, Stu Mead, Marie-Pierre Brunel

Tools of trade: Acrylics, ink, video, computer etc.

Current obsessions: My dead cat, Criterion DVDs

Personal temptation: To stop everything

Ingress: geaphiles.com

Artwork: gea*. Potpourri. Courtesy of the artist.

Full article here.

CULTS OF YOUTH

   

The following article was published in N-SPHERE August 2012 issue.

 

The following text attempts no analysis, merely a survey. Pederasty, like homosexuality in general is to be found in a variety of groups and cultures that, competent scholars noted, defy any attempt at finding either a genealogy or a common-ground, a reality that my limited knowledge of the phenomenon and its history has confirmed early on. What this article does attempt is a quick overview of a typically revolutionary fascination for youth, as the life-force of change, and the symbol of renewal. Like most oppressed minorities, sexual minorities found in revolutionary and utopian ideals some solace, and contributed with more or less success to both the ideology of those movements, and the rank and files of their militants and fighters – but often, as we will see, the enthusiasm and ecumenical ideals of the movements’ early days were abandoned in the process of normalization that followed the eventual revolution.

Many radical movements, unlike the more consensual (or downright conservative in the case of fascism) groups whose support they came to need after achieving state control, originally displayed liberal or even alternative views on human sexuality in their utopian promises. Yet those were rarely given such preponderant position as to participate to the mythology of each group, as did the cult of youth. One can, as often, be tempted to see their partial survival in the form of brotherly love that most martial and virile regimes came to advocate, but such a parallel is based, as far as I am aware, on little more historical evidence than the rapprochement one could make with the prevalent cult of youth; I will therefore abstain from linking the actual stories of individual pederasts in those movements, with the myths and propaganda objectifying youth and childhood for their own political (and aesthetic) purposes. I leave to the fertile and twisted imagination of the reader the enjoyable task to decide whether such images where merely naive and sometimes clumsy, or if they purposefully appealed to what those very movements came to denounce as a perversion.

Before we start it might be profitable to remind the reader of a few issues of terminology. They might provide the reader with an idea of what the current thought on those categories can be: Homosexuality describes the individual’s sexual attraction to persons of the same gender. Noted anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer defines within homosexuality (which, due to his primary interest in traditional societies, he studies chiefly from the point of view of androphilia, that is men attracted to men) four categories: age-structured homosexuality, egalitarian homosexuality, gender-structured homosexuality and paedophilia.

Egalitarian homosexuality describes the attraction between adults of the same sex, while gender-structured homosexuality refers mainly to transgender. Paedophilia, Gorer indicates, is a rare phenomenon that seems generally to be considered as pathological. Age-structured homosexuality, which will interest us in particular in this article, includes pederasty, that is the attraction of a grown, adult man, for a man belonging to a different age-group or a different generation, in that case an adolescent. Such practice can be found in a variety of cultures and throughout the ages, albeit the Greek glorification of this relationship is certainly the most well known.

This first model is predominantly in use in anthropology, while an other »scale« is being discussed by sexologists and psychiatrists (most notoriously by Ray Blanchard) and established pederasty as part of the same continuum (»chronophilia«) as paedophilia, merely as less pronounced: whereas paedophilia is defined as an attraction for prepubescent children, hebepohilia is concerned with adolescent in the early stages of puberty, and ephebophilia is the attraction to adolescents in their late puberty, or fully pubescent.

For most of modern history, and for revolutionary movements, Ancient Greece has represented the distant ideal of a golden age, a world distant enough for thinkers of all factions to project their ideal onto, and yet influential enough on their contemporary history to arouse fear and sometimes incomprehension: in the political arena, Greece was of course the first democracy and came to symbolize for many the alternative, both cultural and later political, to a modern era that was often seen as a set back from glorious time of the ancients. As discussed by a number of authors of the time (most famously Plato) pederasty seemed to have been the norm, as the type of relationship, sexual or not, where it was fitting for the grown man to express his love, and often his desire. We will not go into detail but there is a rich literature available describing how this particular relationship was thought to be pedagogical and in many traditional societies, up to as late as the XXth century, the educational character of such a relationship between a grown man and a youth was stressed – yet, due to its cultural, and political, prevalence, pederasts in the West, will consistently come back to ancient Greece, with its formalized and accepted model of pederastic relationship, in both their idealization and justification of pederasty.

And indeed it is in Greece we can find the two political archetypes, founding myths if you will, that will remain influential references for all future movements:

Harmodius and Aristogeiton were two lovers living under the tyranny of Hipparchus, who plotted the assassination of the tyrant, to avenge Harmodius’s sister’s honour, hence opening the way for the establishment of Athenian democracy. The two heroes were later divinized and sculpture, as well as poetry, immortalizes their sacrifice and their arete, for the Greek the highest virtue combining courage and honour.

On the scale of revolutions, stretching between the liberal and the authoritarian ideals, Athens became very much the symbol of democracy, of rational and egalitarian societies – forgetting in the process many of the less fitting idiosyncrasies of Greek history, but not the pronounced taste for pederasty. On other end, and quite contemporary to the two tyranicides of Athens, we shall find Sparta, no less apologetic as to the homosexual relationships between the growing boy and his teacher, even making it already a central element of their pedagogy, but in a radically different context, that of a regime where all citizen were full-time soldiers, and where children from the age of seven onward were separated from their family in order to receive a communal and extremely harsh martial education – modern historians see many of those specificities of Spartan education as tending towards the formation of an emotional community intended to provide the Spartan army with a cohesion that was much revered by other Greek cities, including the much less strict Athens – many will also agree that the place of homosexuality in Sparta was, in a similar spirit as the one exemplified by Harmodius and Aristogeiton in Athens, instrumentalized to achieve the same cohesion. Interestingly enough, the lecture of Artistotle’s Politics, or of Plato’s Apology of Socrates, reveal that the Spartan model of military state was not only much admired by the Athenians, but also that the regular »revolutions« replacing democracy with autocrats called »tyrants«, were often enough motivated with the implementation of a Spartan-style regime (in the Thirty Tyrants episode in particular).

Albeit homosexuality, and pederasty, were present throughout history, in Rome in particular, its association with lofty ideals and political renovation somewhat disappears for many century, probably under the increasing pressure of the Jewish and Christian morals that showed much less tolerance of same sex relationships than the Greek civilization did, and we now need to take a huge step forward in history to the XVIIIth century, to examine the modern reception of those practices, and the role they were to play in the coming revolutions. Like many of the uses radical ideologies will make of myths, those will in part relate to their contemporary perception of the Ancient civilizations, onto which they generally projected their political –and sexual- ideals.

The fascination for youth and childhood in modern revolutionary movements has quite a clear origin: the idea, developed chiefly by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, that the »Fall« (the original sin, perversion, ect.) is bestowed upon children by an imperfect society, whereas the child is born perfect, and in the biblical sense of the word, innocent.

In this regard the interest in children, much like the more or less simultaneous flourishing of the myths of the noble savage, denote an Arcadian drive -rather than utopian- that is a sense that health, purity and more generally perfection, are to be found in the past, rather than to be built in the future. This peculiar longing for a golden age and child-like innocence that was lost, part-take first in the ideals that will bring about the French and American revolutions and the reformist projects that will blossom here and there at the dusk of the XVIIIth century, but also, and more decisively, fuels the dominant nostalgia that presides to the ensuing Romantic Era.

But as we will see, this same passéist ideal that provided the founding myths and fuelled the revolutions, will also, once discarded by the increasingly positivist XIXth century, fuel the most violent backlash against the secular rationalist order, not only in the form of Romanticism, but also in the form of many other revolutions, some entirely at odds with the liberal and humanist ideals.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) is widely considered as one of the most important -and one of the most eccentric- figures of the XVIIIth century – in several ways prefiguring Romanticism as it will develop in the XIXth century, Rousseau hardly fits in the existing categories of the age: albeit his work was to largely define the political ideals that presided to the coming democratic revolutions, he was also, less famously, convinced of the priority of the state, of the common cause, in the face of individuality. Alongside his fascination for the mythical state of nature, his prefiguring of the ideas of national interest (albeit in much more communitarian terms) places him at the root of many revolutionary and even anti-democratic movements further on.

There is little evidence to link his utopian views of childhood to Rousseau’s sexuality – other than it was very repressed: after difficult experiences in the hospice as a child where he narrowly escaped rape, he developed further a pre-existing dislike for copulation, and for sodomy in particular, so much that his regular, frightened references to possible homosexuals have lead some scholars to suspect there might be more to it. One must in those circumstances, remember that one of Rousseau’s greatest achievements is certainly the candid honesty, and the incessant self-analysis that accompanied his writing, and the autobiographical Confessions in particular: psychoanalytical exegesis might not be best at home with him. At any rate, many of the more contemporary advocacies of child sexuality, and often of paedophilia, trace the idea of sexuality as corruptive for the child to Rousseau, be it to his romantic ideals or to his own sexual feelings of inadequacy.

What does come as a surprise, though, for an advocate of democracy and education, who was to become among its most important reformers, is his downright fascination, not with Athens but with Sparta: throughout his voluminous output in the field of political theory, we find frequent references to Sparta’s »blissful ignorance« and to the »wisdom of its laws«, which, as we have seen, is slightly surprising in the light of the extreme harshness and brutality of the Spartan society; Sparta’s harsh, militaristic communautarism, and their treatment of children hardly fit with Rousseau’s Arcadian ideals of innocence and life in nature, but this is just one of the many paradoxes of the character, one, maybe, that will take part in the future contradictions of many revolutionary movements.

In 1794, many years after his encounter with Rousseau in Rome, André Grétry composed a peculiar opera concerned with the life and death of Joseph Barra, who will be the first of our under-age revolutionary martyrs: it is difficult to assess which influence Rousseau’s philosophy had on Grétry’s post-revolution output and many historians assess those plays in the light of his earlier royal sympathies, as essentially opportunistic – but all the same his avowed fascination with Rousseau’s radical ideas could have finally found their expression in his suddenly militant extolling of the democratic sacrifice.

Joseph Barra, born in 1779, was apparently so swept away by revolutionary fervour in 1789, that albeit by far too young to enrol in the republican troops he managed to sneak in and join, as a drummer according to the later paintings, the ranks of a unit fighting Vendé’s royalist résistance. He died during the campaign and was seized by revolutionary mastermind Robespierre as a great candidate for deification, his story generously re-written to achieve maximum impact, and its illustration so widely encouraged that, as Gétry before them, many artists, and painters in general, were to select him as a subject for their patriotic works all the way into the late XIXth century.

It is quite widely accepted that the French revolution was also a sexual revolution, if largely aborted by the ensuing Napoleonian regime, much like the original fascist ideals were to be betrayed by Mussolini’s later compromises in the hands of the conservative forces; The Marquis de Sade, for example, member during the revolution of the Piques (far left) but, before the Terror, one of the representatives of the National Convention – was to be dismissed and imprisoned (probably essentially due to his aristocratic background); Many other examples of the revolutionaries frantic sexuality can be found, in its mildest expression, in the numerous reports of public and licentious behaviour inside of Notre Dame during the famous Festival of Reason, or in a more morbid fashion, in the alleged tradition of the so called Batteries Nationales.

Undressed by the Jacobins and revolutionary forces, victims of the large scale class-cleansing of the Terror were then tied, alive and in some cases dead, in couples or sometimes in groups, in sexual positions displaying the creative mind of their accusers, and displayed to the crowd and eventually thrown in the rivers. After this orgy of sex and violence, and maybe even because of such excesses, following the execution of Robespierre, France seems to come back to more acceptable mores although one significant progress is the separation the criminal sex laws from the influence of the Church.

Surviving this madness, De Sade was none the less to be kept behind bars by the subsequent government, notably Napoleon, which did not seem to slow down his frenetic sexual activity, be it with his fellow inmates, or with the 13 years old daughter of some of the employees…

It is in England, and in a very different form, in Germany, that the XIXth century will see the birth of the romantic archetype of homosexuality, that will be brought to much public attention, in the fin-de-siècle characters of Oscar Wilde and similar dandies – the particular terminology that will develop at the time, that of Uranian will later come to describe all of male homosexuality, and even on occasion the female expression, is given two different possible origins, both of interest to us:

Some attribute it an unlikely origin in the German term of Urnings, of which later, while the much more likely origin is to be found in Plato’s Symposium, in which the ever present Socrates (one Athenian later executed for his Spartan sympathies…) discusses at length the ideas of love and lust, proposing for androphilia a mythical origin in the birth of Venus from Uranus, the sky, a birth that would involve no women: »from a mother in whose birth the female has no part,-she is from the male only; this is that love which is of youths«.

Albeit largely pederastic but emphasizing the romantic and the lofty in the homosexual relationship, the term Uranian retrospectively came to describe a particular crowd of writers and artists, whose largely clandestine work dealt with their own homosexuality in a very sentimental manner and generally referencing ancient history, which comes as little surprise given that many of them were scholars of Latin or Ancient Greece – in large part the movement was centred around Public schools, the elitist system of boarding school that produced (and still does) most of the British academic, financial and political leadership.

William J. Cory is generally considered as the first of this lineage, a teacher at the public school he came to be widely regarded as one of the best tutors and a respected theorician of pedagogy, as attested among others by his student Coleridge. A poet and a very dedicated classicist, Cory is widely regarded as initiating the Uranian poetical movement with his masterpiece Ionica (see quote on left page).

Notwithstanding his outstanding achievements in the fields of education and poetry, a compromising letter evidencing his relationship with a student forced him to resign and move abroad.

Following in his trace and forming the bulk of the Uranian movements, one can find Montague Summers, an ambiguous clergyman writing about werewolves, homosexuals and vampires, J.F. Bloxam who popularised the Priest/Chorister romance, J. G. Nicholson or J. A. Symonds – most  notably were either clergymen or tutors, and a central interest in Ancient Greece or Renaissance was apparently common – it is worth noting that the public school system seemed to have been a hot bed of homosexuality and on occasion pederasty, in a fashion some say reinforcing »esprit de corps«, as acknowledged by C.S. Lewis for example.

J.A. Symonds was introduced to Uranian ideas by a tutor who lent him Cory’s Ionica – as often in the pederastic relationships, and in their educational incarnations, the former pupil grew to become a master and supposedly perpetuated his pursuits – and once again the revelation of his particular interests and his alleged attempts at corrupting choirboys, threatened his career – Symonds was, unlike many of the other Uranian, a defender of homosexuality as a martial value, rather than of effemination. He frequently referred to Spartan history, which he knew particularly well, as exemplified in his posthumous volume Soldier Love and Related Matters. He coined the expression »L’Amour Impossible« – Impossible Love – which largely exemplifies the very particular relationship that the Victorian Uranian had to their lofty ideals.

Related is the Order of Chaeronea, nothing short of a secret society destined to homosexuals, whose thematic and spirituality referred to an idealized Ancient Greece largely quoted from Uranian poetry – other than its Masonic organisation, with secret words and rituals, as for the Uranians the group seemed to have attracted a large number of socialists, albeit having no official political inclination of its own. The name of Chaeronea refers to the final and deadly battle of a the famous Sacred Band of Thebes, an elite military phalanx belonging to the City-State of Thebe, a third Greek power roughly contemporary of the Spartan and Athenian societies discussed above. The sacred band was famously composed of three hundred pederastic couples solely selected for their martial ability, and whose cohesion once again relied heavily on the particular type of relationships within its rank.

The Uranian movement, like many classicist movements of the period, did not adopt an outspoken political stance, possibly in reason of their heavy reliance on a semi-mythical past, stretching their imaginary between nostalgia for a lost golden-age and social and cultural progressist ideas, a fate shared by a number of left-wing traditionalists; Chiefly their verse seems to find in Utopia what justification naivety brought to their sexuality (in this reminiscent of Benjamin Britten’s similarly ambiguous public school experience) – but outside of their passéist poetry a number of the movement’s participants took part in the publication of various progressive magazines and letters concerned with subjects ranging from welfare to Fourrierism. The social utopianism seemed to have failed to overcome or integrate the aesthetic and narrative elements of the group, although it is virtually ever present in the lives of its member.

Meanwhile in Germany, at the time at the forefront of educational reform, a similar relationship between the tutor and the pupil was being described and even systematized, in similarly ambiguous terms: Gustav Wyneken (1875-1964) at that time a tutor in a boarding school as well as a writer, was practicing and theorizing a concept he coined pedagogic Eros, developing once again the Ancient Greek concept of pedagogy as involving a particular form of romantic relationship between the student and his teacher – although he would eventually be dismissed following unproven accusation of sexual abuses, he was a lot later fondly remembered by a number of famous students of his, notably Walter Benjamin, who credited him for his love of German Idealism.

Beyond his views on the pedagogic relationship, Wyneken, more famously at the time, was an advocate and a theorician of the rising Volkish movement: Volkish is notoriously difficult to define, gathering a number of sometimes contradictory ideas, some naive and benign, and some prefiguring the central importance given to the concept later on by the Nazis. At any rate as we will see, the Volkish movement of the XIXth and early XXth century cannot be limited to such dark omen.

Originally a youth movement following the teachings of Eduard Baltzer, it might have been a reaction against industrialization and rationalization of the life of the parents, perceived as bourgeois and decadent – the proposed alternative, rooted in a variety of political ideology ranging from communitarian anarchism to utopian nationalism, involved invariably a return to nature, albeit not in a conservative fashion but in a utopian, idealistic and overwhelmingly romantic fashion. Practices associated with the Volkish movement included vegetarianism, nudism, neo-paganism, and regular group retreats in the nature, often organised by independent youth organisations. At any rate the most relevant analogy to describe this trend is probably the American hippie movement, save the Marxism and replace it with nationalism.

One of the main proponents of the Volkish culture was a more less loose network of organisations known under the name of Wandervogel – inspired from youth organisations such as scoutism, those groups of youth that, often without adult supervision, organised retreats in the forest and skill-exchanges, and also circulated the ideas dear to the Volkish movement – Wyneken, who termed the expression »Jungkultur«, something akin to what we would now call youth culture, strongly promoted such independent initiatives insisting on avoiding as much as possible adult intrusion.

The Wandervogel were hugely popular and represented, much like scoutism nowadays, a wide variety of ideological orientations. At the time of Hitler’s accession to power and the subsequent institution of the compulsory Hitler Youth, some Wandervogel groups, indeed sympathetic to Nazi ideology, were incorporated, while other groups, most notoriously the Edelweiss Piraten and the Leipzig Meuten, as late as the 1930s would engage in independent (and largely illegal) activities as well as challenging and combating adverse Hitler Youth divisions.

A number of collaborators of the Volkish movement, and among them a number of icons, were rather sympathetic to Wyneken’s ideas, and some were also openly homosexual or pederast: the most famous among those have to be the artist Fidus who will not only define the particular image and style associated with Volkish, but also play a pivotal role in the development of the Jugendstil, the German graphic expression of Art Nouveau.

The official illustrator of the early Wandervogel movement, he displayed much interest in the body of teenagers and went on to participate in the first »gay« magazine.  This was published in Germany by Adolph Brand between 1896 and 1932 – Titled Der Eigene, in reference to the Young Hegelian and founder of individualist-anarchism Max Stirner’s most famous work Der Einzige und sein Eigentum – the magazine published a wealth of famous sympathetic writers, from Thomas Mann to John Henry Mackay, or Hans Einz Ewers. Their glorification of homosexuality relied heavily on Volkish themes and aesthetics, and at the time seemingly embraced the rising anti-Semitism.

Most famously, the strong reliance of Nazism onto Volkish culture proved to foster an ambiguous (as for many things before the NSDAP’s access to power) relationship to homosexuality – at any rate it seems fairly certain that the voluntarist philosophy permeating fascist thought encouraged regular reference to both the mythical and military, making it rather unsurprising to find occasional references to Spartan and Greek military spirit. Unlike the more romantic and melancholic pederasty of the Uranians, the homosexuals of the party are to be found predominantly in its militia: the S.A. -  A number of senior S.A. officers generally appointed by Ernst Röhm, such as Edmund Heines, were charged and executed, during the famous Night of the Long Knives, on the grounds of being homosexuals. Although the inclination of Röhm himself is now widely accepted, the position of this group on the left of the Nazi party, at a time where Hitler was concluding alliances with conservative and industrialist to settle his control over Germany, makes it still uncertain as to the real reasons of the action.

Even before the purge, Röhm and his cabal seemingly started to enforce their own vision onto the German homosexual »underground« (which had very much resurfaced during the Weimar Republic) for example raiding and seizing much material from the house of Adolf Brand, former publisher of Der Eigene as mentioned above. Whether such actions were mere thuggish violence, as it is often implied by historians, or the result of an attempt to restructure the homosexual underworld is hard to define given the lack of documentation concerning this era.

At any rate, following this purge, the Nazi party became increasingly estranged of the most progressive and anti-establishment elements of the Volkish ideology, like Paganism or Homosexuality – appealing at the ever present moral conservatism of the Christian population, it started a campaign of virulent persecution against homosexuals, reaching its apex with the internment and extermination of homosexuals, famously sporting the pink triangle as identification in concentration camps.

Herbert Norkus is the second instance of child-martyr we encounter, this time in Nazi Germany: the Hitler Jugend, nicknamed Quex, died in 1932 at the hand of a communist youth organization – he was, as for Barra during the revolution, quickly seized by the Party as a powerful symbol – merging, as one could imagine, the guilt and disgust of the common man in the face of the ever-revolting death of a child, with the pride and beauty of a man dying for his ideals while still in his prime. A novel and a film were subsequently produced to celebrate and exploit his death, albeit this last one largely lacks the homoerotic appeal one could find in Barra’s representation, showing maybe, the degree of involvement of the puritanical Goebbels.

»Be with me for a long time, do not leave me, / Fuhrer, My Fuhrer, my Faith, my Light« (Hitler Jugend prayer, reported in Jean-Denis Lepage, Hitler Youth 1922-1945: An Illustrated History, p.87)

Nazism’s Cult of Youth, and fascism’s in general, probably received more academic attention than any of its other manifestations: Stanley G. Payne and Klaus Theweleit have probably captured in their studies the essence of the question better than most, in the many terms it requires: a sociological reach for a social group transcending class divisions, a political need for military support, and an aesthetic, if not spiritual, apology of novelty and renewal, to which I would add, although the discussion of this would require a wholly different article, a cultural attraction towards perversity.

Italian Fascism proved much more lax in its control over the artistic output and literary in particular, during the many years that led to the Second World War – this might be in part due to the prominence of the futurist movement in its rank. Although ultimately falling out of favour, the cohort of avant-garde artists advocated the most exotic ideals before and after the Fascists’ rise to power, including, in the case of its founder Marinetti, such an obsessive and thorough misogyny, coupled with outlandish and allegorical poetry, that one finds it hard not to find in his images, a homoerotic subtext, if only apophatic:

In his African novel Mafarka the Futurist, the hero struggles against the temptation of the flesh to ultimately find his fulfilment, mystique and alchemy, in a form of male pregnancy that allows, according to Cinzia Sartini Blum, a rebirth – the palingenesis of the fascist consensus, here achieved by the final abstraction of the female. The idea of man’s ability to give birth is very prominent as we have seen, in Plato’s discussion of pederasty in his Symposium, and incidentally in the British Uranians own mythology. In that regard, it’s also interesting to note that Paul Fussel’s 1975 opus -  The Great War and Memory already trace back the latent homoeroticism of the British war poets to the Uranians – for the futurists much like for Wilfred Owen or others, the war constituted a central experience of comradely love, and their exertion of those values certainly played an important role in the establishment of Fascism.

Albeit Nazi’s painting, much like socialist realism, was prudish, Arno Brecker, the Reich’s most celebrated sculptor was like Speer, more influenced by some sort of neo-classicism on steroids than by the humble life of Christians in the German country-side: his bas-relief of body built Aryans struggling against the elements are highly characteristic of the sort of homoeroticism ascribed by post-war society to Nazism.

It is difficult to assess how much of the Marxist analysis of fascism – the dominant one until the seventies – ascribes homosexuality to fascism in order to discredit the later, and how much of it is funded on a genuine interpretation of the psychological process of fascism. Albeit some of the later analyses of this period treating fascism as essentially a movement of déclassés, could corroborate this later hypothesis, both trends are definitely present.

Marxism, for a movement so bent on defending (and assimilating) minorities, only recognized homosexuality as such relatively late – although Germany had hosted some militant homosexual socialists at the time of his activities, Marx never showed much support to the cause and was even openly hostile to it in his correspondence with Engels.

Following the 1917 revolution the utopian project of the cultural vanguard, which at first defended homosexuality, were soon brought to a halt by the rise of the more radically positivist elements (including Lenin) who considered homosexuality, and pederasty especially, if not as a crime as a disease. But it was not until 1933 that homosexuality was outlawed. Of course the puritanical and moralising soviet state envisioned by Stalin showed little love for homosexuality, pederastic or else, and tended to treat any such underground activity as suspect at best, if not plain and simply seditious.

What comes as more of a surprise is the relative reticence of later Marxists intellectuals to pronounce themselves on the matter of homosexuality, whereas much milder socialists and more radical anarchists had integrated their cause several decades earlier. Theodor Adorno, of all people, seemed to relate fascism and homosexuality (as did the soviet authorities) on the ground of their shared performativity. Without going into too much details, albeit contemporary Marxists have very largely adopted the cause of LGBTQ rights, those who attempt to defend Adorno’s analysis sometimes argue, as he might have, that as the Marxist attitude changed towards the issue, so did homosexuality itself.

Unlike gambling for example, pederasty was hardly a proletarian vice and communist government generally looked at it as a capitalist disease – yet this never stopped them to appeal to the modernist and neo-classical aesthetics of the male body, as exemplified in a number of manifestations, most notably, as for Nazism, in sculpture – although designed by a woman it is curious to note that the clear inspiration for Soviet Russia’s most famous work of propaganda, Worker and Kholkoz Woman, is directly inspired by the famous Greek statue of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, the pederastic lovers who freed Athens from the Tyrants, as discussed above.

Pavlik Mozorov, a spiritual cousin of Joseph Barra and Herbert Norkus, was the soviet’s very own child martyr: the thirteen years old boy from Yekaterinburg was a member of the Komsomol, whose father, he discovered, was involved in sabotage activities. After denouncing his father’s evil deeds to the local government, he was murdered in mysterious circumstances in the woods, probably as retaliation. Similar in tone to Herbert Norkus (whose father was also, in some accounts, unsympathetic to the regime), it has also proven to be heavily rewritten with the »brio« and attention to detail known to the soviet specialists.

It might be that the sudden urge of concern in the western 1960s for the rights of sexual minorities found its roots in the explosion of feminism and the sexual liberation, but certainly the McCarthy witch hunt part-took, if not in popularising homosexuality to the masses, at least in raising awareness among the more liberals and the younger generation, of the precarious situation that gays – and paedophiles – found themselves in time of political turmoil.

Although very few of its victims could be regarded as revolutionaries, the Second Red Scare used abundantly accusations of homosexuality (not unlike it was used by actual communists abroad) to discredit political opposition, and probably fostered a generation of increasingly militant homosexuals.

A few decades earlier, the increasing persecutions the Nazis imposed on dissident Volkish movements such as the Wandervogel seemingly prompted a second wave of German immigration to the United States in the XXth century: amid the burgeoning youth culture, those bearded, long haired Germans preaching Lebensreform seemingly gathered in California, where they were known as Nature Boys, and were to influence widely the Californian surf-scene, and of course, the hippies. The long haired, bearded and, maybe even dirty appearance of hippies and Volkish youth can be traced (if by showing a little fantasy) to Spartiates themselves: Aristophanes’s Birds of 414 BCE so describes Socrate’s disciples : »they aped the manners of Sparta, let their hair grow long, went hungry, refused to wash, »Socratized«, and carried walking sticks«.

But in France, at the time possibly breeding ground of a variegated amalgam of philosophical and cultural theory, one can find what was to become the real philosophical articulation of the paedophilia apology movement, in the person of René Scherer and of his book Emile Perverti.

The book, in many ways a formal attack on Rousseau’s conceptions of education, as exemplified in his book Emile is for us all the more notable that in its own anti-rousseauism, it inscribes itself in a lineage shared by Joseph de Maistre (see Against Rousseau), a Vendean whose absolutist and mystique conservatism was to serve as a major source of inspiration for many fascists and their forefathers (from pragmatists like Maurras to traditionalists like Evola). As we have seen Rousseau is a complex character, who fostered conflicting opinions for over two centuries and plays an axial role in many radical ideologies.

Around that time a number of movements destined to sensibilise the general population to paedophiles as a sexual minority, and push forward such changes in legislation as the abolition of the age of consent, started appearing in the western countries, often as fringes of gay-lib movements but by no means always: the sexual liberation, that played a unifying role in the galaxy of loosely connected causes, was often enthusiastic enough in defending paedophilia. An astonishing number of left-wing intellectuals, in France and The Netherlands in particular, signed various petitions reclaiming the right of children to have a sexuality.

Around thirty years later, it seemed that most battles of the sixties, aside from the Marxist one obviously, had been either won or at least considerably advanced, especially when it comes to minorities – but the question of paedophilia advocacy had been assiduously forgotten, with few of its original militant or sympathizers still open as to their opinion, if any, on the issue – one notable evolution among those groups that remain militant is the relatively recent development, or maybe its gain in visibility, of male paedophiles attracted to underage girls: whereas the pederastic model had, as we have seen, been dominant for centuries, recent statistic show radical changes in that regard.

Most contemporary paedophilia advocacy groups tend to have, following the gay rights movements’ reasonably successful strategy, shed most of their links with other radical causes, political revolution more than any other. Most of such groups now take the form of discussion forums on the internet, who take great care to separate themselves from any illegal activities and discuss at length the history of paedophilia and other academic work that could support their cause in the fields of anthropology, psychology, education, etc.

Not all have shed their political ideology though, as have proven the relatively recent discovery of perennialist anarchist Hakim Bey’s (of TAZ fame) interest in little boys, and his involvement in the seventies in the publication of a number of pamphlet and prints relating to paedophilia advocacy, as well as his rather shaky translations of Persian poetry dealing with the subject.

Whereas the cult of youth itself had reached in the nineties the apex of its popularity, today surviving totalitarian regimes (as evidenced by fashion, porn and music’s obsession with teenagers and child-like women) the popularity of the paedophile cause has never been so low in the west: stripped from its traditional credentials such as the child-bride phenomenon, but also pederasty (of which most gay movements have worked hard to separate themselves from) and from its political credibility, the idea that a child might for example initiate, of himself, a sexual relationship, such as was often described in the sixties, has become regarded with increasing suspicion and disbelief. Yet the development of the internet offers to paedophiles a chance of forming as a community they never had before, and given the scarcity of the statistics and information available on the subject outside of the penal field, it is virtually impossible to judge the evolution of this community.

One can be tempted to see the separation of the gay movement from the pederastic one as a turning point in the later history: the problematic of same sex-relationships is in the west, on its way to disappear but the question of inter-generational sexuality, that originally so deeply associated with it, has been left behind – the titillating aesthetics of child sexuality carried by Vogue or the Japanese Idol movement leave it a space between BDSM chic and body-modification, within the narrow, and politically impotent space of the self-consciously perverted. That is not what paedophiles had, and certainly not what most have, in mind.

 

by Bertrand

Full article here.

I STARTED A JOKE

   

The following article was published in N-SPHERE August 2012 issue.

 

Some films take serious topics seriously, others take them more lightly – eventually use them as selling points – while others distort them to the point that they really seem comic episodes. But very few directors take them seriously, while laughing in their face.

In 1970, the French director Joël Séria helmed a little project called Don’t deliver us from evil. Carefully labeled by some critics as a »children’s film«, the movie however – at its time – frightened/shocked a couple of the more puritan hearts and very soon afterwards was banned in the US for »blasphemy«.

What is, somehow, rather funny, is that Don’t deliver us from evil is not a blasphemous film, nor is it a film that actually deals with two girls who have suddenly decided to worship Satan (or other thing like that). The film itself has no religious, nor philosophical touch of any kind. It is never solemn, nor is it personal, nor – ultimately – takes itself too seriously. Those seeking to find deeper arguments or truth for the film’s protagonists’ behavior will be greatly disappointed.

This is not a film preaching revolt as a form of change, this is not a film preaching revolt, actually. It is a film that toys with things that most people consider unconceivable, or cruel, immoral, nightmarish, take your pick. The two protagonists of the film play their part well, because they leave all the side implications aside, the entire sophomore details and focus on the game itself, as if now nothing they do is actually real.

It is tempting to draw some parallels between this film and Peter Jackson‘s Heavenly creatures. Both films are (loosely) based on real events. In both we have two girls as protagonists and both films invest a lot in »games« and the idea of »cheerful madness«. However, Peter Jackson‘s film is more restrained, meaning that it uses a more domestic setup and it is, ultimately, strangely self-contained. Joël Séria‘s movie is, I think, more cheerful, but it also invests a lot more in its perversion(s).

Six years later, one of the protagonists of Don’t deliver us from evil »returned« in Marie, the doll. While on the surface considerably more restrained than its predecessor, this film, however, has its share of »unorthodox« moments and just like in its predecessor – we are very likely not to perceive them as such.

The film starts in a cheerful tone and after its first 30 minutes, those unfamiliar with Séria‘s work may think that they are dealing with a very sweet romantic comedy. The irony is that the film may very well fall under that category as well because – again – Joël Séria manages to make the troubling scenes look perfectly natural (I don’t know any other director who can do this as well as he does it).

There are moments in which Marie, the doll reminds me of Valerie and her week of wonders. There is the same child-like purity piercing through both works, however, unlike Valerie…, Séria‘s film has a far more traditional approach as far as the narrative layer is concerned.

There is a particular line in Valerie that seems to embody here:

»Grandmother: Hedvika is marrying.

Valerie: Poor Hedvika

However, unlike in Jaromil Jireš’ film, Marie doesn’t change. She marries, but, in spite of her husband’s efforts, she remains unchanged. There is the same repulsion over the excess of flesh, over the primitive »sexual approach« one can also spot in Valerie and here week of wonders and the same attitude towards useless formalities.

The film also displays an interesting point: from the male protagonist’s standpoint – the game was from the beginning just a game, what came afterwards was real/human, dry, but real. From Marie’s standpoint, the game was real from the beginning, what came afterwards was abuse. She did not want a life that would limit her to some common mechanical activities. The game was an antidote of that, pretty much in the same way it was for the two protagonists in Don’t deliver us from evil. The difference between the two films comes from their nuances. The first deliberately rejects all rules regardless of how this may affect others, while in Marie, the doll the protagonist is harmless. Her needs are simple and they do not affect (not in a meaningful way) others. For her, their bond was something sacred, for him it was just a vehicle: he wanted an object. A pretty little object he can admire every now and again the way he wants. It kind of reminds me of an idiotic ad/commercial/video called Women, know your place.

There are other things to be noticed in this film such as, for example, how mannerisms can turn into something rotten, there is a little déjà vu one may have at the beginning of Marie…, that the male protagonist will end-up being some sort of a villain. His expression gives this away. And also his slight predictability, the fact that he could tell stories about each and every doll he has or, more precisely, that he would let his »targets« know that he is not really interested in those stories, but interested in using them as selling points – and I am well aware that each of you had to deal – at least once – with those kind of people.

At its core, this is a sad film, but the director is not too solemn about this. He distances himself from Marie, lets her be the judge of that. Sometimes her attitude reminds me of Gelsomina (the protagonist from Fellini‘s La Strada). Women falling for posters. Maybe this is one of the hidden messages, because he has one of those faces.

All in all, the film is pretty slow-paced, but it may appeal to a considerable number of people because of its erotic touch. Although, this is not to be taken literally, since the only sex scene in the film is seen though a repulsive eye. It is also interesting to spot connections between Marie… and other films.

That’s about it, Joël Séria was a pleasant director to encounter for me, because of his mastery in making the unthinkable funny, exciting, while staying away from being exploitative. No matter how perverse a scene was, there was always this idea that it is just a game that holds no interest in investing too much in flesh rituals.

Also, Marie the doll works as some kind of Lolita-like story, with a far less creative male protagonist and a far more dedicated female protagonist. Kind of reminds me of a song Dark Lolita, come to think of it, which works well with the film, I may play it from time to time.

by Shade

photo | Marie, the doll. 1976. Movie still

Full article here.

NIELS GEYBELS

   

The following article was published in N-SPHERE July 2012 issue.

 

Name: Niels Geybels

Location: Antwerpen, Belgium.

Occupation: Visual artist, graphic designer and musician.

Definition of personal sphere: Beneath the Earth. In the Endless Void. Amongst the Shadow of the Monolith.

Artwork in 4 words: Black Shapes – White Noise.

What is inspirational for you: Music, books, nature. And mainly the people that I surround myself with.

Currently favourite artists: John Jansen, Zen Zsigo, Faith Coloccia, Joseph Beuys, Richard Long. Jhonn Balance & Peter Christopherson.

Tools of trade: Paper. Paint & ink. Xerox machine.

Current obsessions: Death. Alchemy. Cassettes. Science-fiction.

Personal temptation: Despondency.

Ingress: cargocollective.com/nielsg

Artwork: Niels Geybels. 2011. Voidness III. Courtesy of the artist.

Full article here.

HÄXAN AND OTHER HIDDEN COMFORTS

   

The following article was published in N-SPHERE July 2012 issue.

 

Mysticism/the supernatural has always been a tempting ground to thread when it comes to cinema (and not only cinema). There are dozens of films that deal with the occult: some of them are known, others more obscure, some of them choose to be true to some source, others are just fabrications. However, this aspect is not one of interest here, since we are not talking – in most of the cases – about works that document something. The films falling in the latter category are worth mentioning in order to draw a line between an academic (if such term makes sense here) perspective, one that presents a series of events in a detached manner assuming that the viewer is familiar with the ground, and a more artistic approach which subtracts or merely sketches all »familiar aspects« (rituals for instance) in favor of creating a compelling setup (so to speak) which works better with the casual viewer.

I am not going to debate about the presumed effect of some »occult« works, because I believe these effects are fabrications designed for people looking for sensational stories, nothing more. Nor am I going to discuss about rituals and other »real« sources, because this is not an article on witchcraft, neither it is an article on witchcraft in art. In itself, this is a contradiction in terms: either you have one, or the other. On the one hand, if you are filming a »successful« ritual, what you see is what you get, there is no need for the artist to do anything (art is supposed to at least transport the viewer or interpret reality). On the other hand, if you are making a film about – let’s say – a cursed house, you’ll be more focused in having your material compelling to the casual viewer, even if this means discarding most of the »standard ritualistic procedures«. In the  first case, you will either have a group of people viewing what they are already familiar with, or a group of people who are either uninterested or alienated by the material. Either way, I doubt that what they would experience would even remotely close to something related with what they are presented (mystical / occult are terms that are easily coined today to many works of art, but I doubt that these terms point to specific »procedures«).

Let’s consider the films of Kenneth Anger: the reason for which they work has nothing to do with the source material, but with the way the material is presented. If we are to take the imagery out of the equation, what we would be left with, would be completely useless. They work mostly because they are visually striking and vague enough to let the viewers furnish the space in their own way.

Another  worthwhile consideration is Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages, the 1922 silent film about witchcraft, black magic and other related issues. Again, I found the mystical subtext in itself to be nearly of no interest, but what caught my attention was the overall atmosphere: it is a particular one, which can only find in silent films (or films that act like silent ones). First of all, silent films natively subtract something and they need to compensate what they subtract with something else – and here’s where the expressionism pays off: remember La Passion de Jeanne D’Arc? Don’t you think that it works best the way it is and it still is, even today, far more effective than other attempts on the same topic?. Another aspect of these particular silent films is the absence of colors, as it gives them a vague quality in addition to being in perfect tone with the topic. The occult and black&white/sepia: seems like they belong together, doesn’t it? Häxan shares many of these qualities – random fact: it was mostly shot during nighttime, which was unheard of at that time – and one of its editions has another interesting feature: William Burroughs as narrator.

§

Carl Theodore Dreyer‘s Vampyr swims pretty much in the same waters, the only difference being that Vampyr relies less on the story and focuses even more on the atmosphere, to the point where the whole movie feels like a dream.

So, having these three segments together, the question that emerges is: what is really a mystical film? Is it all about depicting so-called mystical experiences? I doubt it. First of all, because it is not like depicting, let’s say, a physical phenomenon, which can be observed, explained and so forth.  There is no standard truth to be found here: some people believe in supernatural forces, in the occult etc. – others don’t. Those who don’t will always find a rational explanation, or they will settle for the just-because-I-can’t-explain-it-doesn’t-mean-it-can’t-be-explained logic, while those who do believe in such things will more likely assume that the things we observe and explain rationally are actually a consequence of some invisible forces at play; but even if such things do exist, I doubt that they are so easily reachable to be explained in terms this simple or to be used in purposes this childish. This is why there is no real reliable source, there is no real academic angle, what is left are stories and, more exactly, a way these stories are told. In movies, this works better, because there is another catch: mysticism (I use this term because it is more generic) relies heavily on strong imagery and you don’t have to be an expert, not even to be familiar with the whole story, to figure this one out. Also, there is this oneiric feel through most of them. This is why silent films are such a fertile ground. Movies like Vampyr theoretically have nothing to do with occult processions or anything inhabiting the same neighborhood, but they are haunting, eerie and visually arresting.

Earlier, I mentioned films that are mimicking the silent ones. The opening act from Jodorowsky‘s Holy Mountain is such an example which, again, works best at its most vague and works worst at its most concrete (the whole part where planets are detailed starts as interesting, but ends up being achingly repetitive and exhausting). Of course, if we are to talk about this maybe the best candidate is the 1990′s Begotten by E. Elias Merhige, which creates its own (grotesque) mythology.

There are, of course other approaches, some of which I accidentally talked about on previous occasions (on films such as Rosemary’s Baby or Don’t look now), approaches that do not necessarily rely on gloomy dreamlike tones, but on having unfamiliar events depicted in a very familiar tone and placed on an equally familiar setup. Two early Peter Weir films, Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave are such examples. Another one would be the above mentioned Rosemary’s Baby, where, except from a dream scene, everything is presented in a very mundane manner. We know what happens, we knew for quite a while and yet, before the ending scene, Polanski never throws rituals or even eerie-yet-powerful imagery at us. The film is compelling because we are witnessing such events fleshed out in a very convincing manner and at some point we realize that, if such things exist, they are more likely to happen the way they are depicted, than the way we got used to imagine them. The same can be said about the two Peter Weir films and Dreyer‘s Vredens Dag.

There is no way to fully cover this ground, especially since the most compelling scenes from such movies are far more related to sensory perception than they are to language. This having been said, it pretty much depends on what you prefer. Häxan is an interesting ride mostly because of the time it was released (to have a »documentary« on witchcraft that ambitious in the early 20s is quite something).

by Shade

photo | Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages. 1922. Benjamin Christensen. Movie Still

Full article here.

GERMANIC MYTHOLOGY

   

The following article was published in N-SPHERE July 2012 issue.

 

So you’ve heard of Zeus the Thunderer, presiding over Mount Olympus. And perhaps you’ve read a thing or two about one of his daughters, the virginal, owl-eyed Athena, or her half-brother, the willowy, ferocious Dionysus. Maybe you pass a statue of hatted Hermes every day, or perhaps now and then you see a painting of nude Aphrodite. It is likely that you have heard a fair amount about these gods and their doings, and something or another about the synthesis of Greek deities into the empire of Rome. Much are the Greek gods celebrated in western culture; they are so ingrained in modern Western Culture that the word mythology often simply refers to the deities of the Greeks and Romans.

But what about the gods native to the Germanic peoples, those peoples so greatly responsible for shaping modern Europe, those that were just as responsible for the foundation of what we now know as the Western world? Who were these deities native to the linguistic ancestors of such important modern languages as English, German, and the languages of Scandinavia? And what role do these gods play today?

In this short paper I will very briskly outline the major surviving sources on and key concepts relating to Germanic mythology, the mythology of the Germanic peoples. This category includes the better known Norse mythology, the mythology of the North Germanic peoples. I will conclude this article with a brief discussion on the ongoing influence that these topics have on modern Western society, including their place in modern popular culture and the revival of their appearance in a sacral context among modern Germanic heathen groups. This paper is by no means comprehensive; consider it a key to an overgrown door.

 

••• Language and Mythology

But before we go any further, it is important that we are clear on a few key terms. Because of its double meaning, the adjective Germanic is a confusing one for English speakers. To be perfectly clear, the adjective Germanic as used in this article does not refer to the modern nation of Germany. Rather, Germanic—in increasingly antiquated works often referred to as Teutonic—refers to a family of languages that stem from a common ancestor, reconstructed by linguists and usually known as Proto-Germanic [z]. The Germanic language family includes numerous living languages, such as English, German, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, and several others. Germanic languages may be divided into various branches, such as North Germanic, West Germanic, and East Germanic. The latter, East Germanic, a branch that included Gothic (yes, that’s a language!), is now extinct.

Ultimately, the Germanic language family descends from the same source as a group of numerous other language families, families such as Italic, Indo-Iranian, Celtic, Hellenic, Baltic, and Slavic. Their common ancestor is known as Proto-Indo-European, a language which arrived in Europe sometime during the middle to late European Neolithic. The precise details and origins of the Proto-Indo-Europeans remain a matter of debate and extensive research and reconstruction among archaeologists and linguists. Like the Germanic languages, Germanic mythology sprung from a Proto-Indo-European origin, and like other facets of their culture, the mythology of the Proto-Indo-Europeans is undergoing reconstruction. However, one thing is perfectly clear; we now know that we have a whole lot more in common with many of our neighbors than was once thought.

Our working definition of mythology is considerably less complex. For our purposes, mythology is simply a body of tales about a deity (or deities). In this case, we refer to the mythology native to the Germanic peoples prior to Christianization and the memory and records which have thereafter lived on. This includes folklore reaching up until and after industrialization. Numerous tales of heroes also appear throughout the Germanic record, but they will not be handled in this work. All in all, this time period stretches from the end of the Nordic Bronze Age up until widespread literacy less than 100 years ago.

 

••• The Nature of the Sources

Although the Germanic peoples developed a native script—the various runic alphabets—their society was predominantly oral, with great emphasis on traditional, technically complex poetry. Surviving runic inscriptions tend to be short and to the point. Sometimes these inscriptions invoke deities, often they are perfectly mundane messages for this or that, and sometimes they can only be described as cryptic gibberish. As a result, most information that we have about the mythology of the Germanic peoples comes from either post-Christianization Scandinavian sources or from the comments and records from outside observers. It is these sources, combined with the science of linguistics and comparative material from other Indo-European cultures, that are used to make sense of earlier works that provide little detail. The quantity and quality of sources on Germanic mythology therefore varies greatly from time and place.

 

••• Early Sources

It was towards the end of the first century when Roman historian Tacitus wrote our single most important and informative source describing the ancient Germanic peoples. In this source, Germania, Tacitus produces a generally positive picture of Rome’s northernly neighbors from largely unknown sources. However, where it may be confirmed, Tacitus’s work is often startlingly accurate.

Tacitus, like authors writing in Latin before and after him, frequently employs a process known as interpretatio romana, a process in which a non-Roman god is equated with a Roman god. For example, by way of interpretatio romana, the Germanic god *Wodanaz (the asterisk means that the word is nowhere written but has been reconstructed by way of its descendents by linguists) handily becomes Mercury. This is due to apparent similarity observed in more descriptive later sources. However, it is very possible that the position of *Wodanaz—the god who we now know most commonly as Odin—may have been in most ways quite unlike that of Mercury at Tacitus’s time of writing. Tacitus also mentions a Jupiter, Mars, an Isis, and a Castor and Pollux. These deity names may respectively be translated as Proto-Germanic forms of who we may later recognize as Thor, Tyr, Freyja (or perhaps Frigg—it’s complicated), and the brothers Hengist and Horsa.

Fortunately for us, Tacitus also provides Germanic names in passing, such as the god name Ing and the semi-Latinized goddess name Nerthus. Unfortunately, Tacitus provides little in terms of myth; while he mentions that the Germanic peoples sing much about their mythology, Tacitus only briefly outlines a potential creation myth involving a being named Tuisto. According to Tacitus, this Tuisto is the earth-born ancestor of the Germanic peoples, and from his son, Mannus, came the three primeval Germanic tribes.

Beginning at around the same time, from 100 to 500 CE, numerous altars depicting females, often in trios, were erected along the borders of Roman-controlled territories reaching into the region that Roman authors refer to as Germania. These Latin inscriptions refer to these females as matres (»mothers«) and matronae (»ladies«). About half of these inscriptions contain Latinized Germanic names. No doubt extensive mythology existed about these celebrated deities, but it has since been long lost. However, like the rest of the deities mentioned in this section, this won’t be the last we hear about these divine figures.

 

••• Christianize or be Christianized

Unlike the continental Celts, the Roman Empire never managed to consume its Germanic neighbors. Indeed, it was Germanic peoples who formed England after the Romans left Britain, who flowed into previously mainly Romanized Celtic areas such as the Alps, and surged into the Roman Empire, eventually conquering it. However, the Roman Empire remained resilient in its ability to absorb, and so in time these Germanic peoples who worked within Roman borders themselves often became Romans. Yet in the 4th century CE, Rome wasn’t what it used to be. That century, Christianity had been given governmentally favored status under Constantine I. Later that century Rome saw traditional Roman religion’s last official stand in the emperor Julian’s attempt to revive it. Outside of traditional Roman religion, Julian sought general religious tolerance in the empire, returning bishops exiled by previous Christian emperors and making it a point to reach out to other religious groups, such as Rome’s Jews. Julian died a few years into office from wounds sustained in battle.

Not long after Julian’s short reign, the emperor Theodosius I came to power. Theodosius I had the temples of the gods razed and the traditional polytheism of the Romans outlawed. With his reign religious tolerance in Rome was dead. All non-Catholics were now targets for conquest; there was no room for those whose beliefs did not fall in line. Theodosius I was the last emperor to rule over both the Eastern and Western Roman Empires.

By way of political alliance and missionary work aimed at nobility, Christianity very slowly began to creep northward from Rome. Resistance was eventually met with repression and persecution, and at times a choice between death and conversion; under Charlemagne’s 785 (likely biblically-inspired) legal code Capitulatio de partibus Saxoniae, execution was authorized for those conquered Saxons that refused to abandon their ancestral beliefs and convert. Scholar Britt-Mari Näsström comments that »Christianity oscillated between regarding the native gods as lifeless idols and malevolent demons. Freyja [an important Old Norse goddess associated strongly with sexuality who we will discuss later] became an easy target for the new religion, in which an asexual virgin was the ideal woman« [y].  Indeed, some of our scant continental sources on the gods, such as the Old Saxon Baptismal Vow, outright refer to them as »demons« and Scandinavian material at times shows a particular hostility towards female deities. The songs that Tacitus once glowingly described by Tacitus were now targeted for extermination.

When deities are mentioned in a non-demonized context, it is usually by way of a process known as euhemerization. Under this process, which is named after the 4th century BCE Greek writer Euhemerus, a god is presented as a historical figure who has come to be deified by way of human folly (perhaps a convenient compromise between half-heathen royalty and anxious monastery!). As a result, formerly venerated gods, such as Woden (the Old English form of the god we now most popularly know as Odin), appear in royal genealogies as the ancestors of rulers of Christian kingdoms.

That said, this isn’t always the case, as we shall see.

 

••• England and the European Continent

Over half a millennium after Tacitus’s time, often in areas where royalty had declared themselves Christianized a few hundred years prior, a smattering of references to Germanic deities begin to appear on record. In Anglo-Saxon England, mentions of native deities—such as the aforementioned god Ing, the once widely venerated »Mothers«, the goddess Ēostre (the namesake of modern Easter), the god Woden, the horse brothers Hengist and Horsa, and an apparent barley being named Beowa—are made in passing, usually as briefly as possible. Nowhere in the Old English record are heathen myths transparently recorded. Yet there are tantalizing hints; for example, Woden is mentioned as a serpent-slaying, charm-wielding healer in the half-heathen Nine Herbs Charm, and, in the knowledge poem Solomon and Saturn presented as the father of an alphabet.

Perhaps the first straightforward myth about Germanic gods to appear in the body of records that we have today is that of the Langobards, a Germanic people who, according to tradition, ultimately migrated from Scandinavia before ruling over a kingdom in Italy the 6th and 8th centuries. In this myth, recorded in the anonymous 7th century Origo Gentis Langobardorum, the gods Godan and Frea have taken sides among two Germanic peoples who have come into conflict, the Vandals and the Winnili. Godan is Langobardic for the deity we nowadays popularly know as Odin, whereas Frea is Langobardic for either Frigg or Freyja (or a combination of both—it’s complex). After being appealed to by the Winnili leadership for victory, Frea moves Woden’s bed to face Eastward as he sleeps. Upon waking, Odin sees the assembled women of the Winnili with their long hair tied as if beards. Godan, surprised, asks »who are these long-beards?« (»Qui sunt isti longibarbae?« ). Frea comments that he has now named them and should give them victory. As a result, the Winnili were thereafter known as the Langobards; the long-beards.

Strong mythical allusions are found in two heathen charms discovered in the margin of a 9th or 10th century manuscript from Fulda, Germany. In the first of the two charms, written in Old High German and known collectively as the Merseburg Charms (die Merseburger Zaubersprüche), a scenario is recounted in which the gods Wodan and Phol are riding through a wood. The horse on which Balder—apparently the same figure as Phol—is riding wrenches his foot. The goddesses Sinthgunt, Sunna, Frija, and Volla all magically heal the horse alongside the god Woden. The charm ends with the refrain »bone to bone, blood to blood, joint to joints, so be mended!« (»Ben zi bena, bluot si bluoda, lid zi geliden, sose gelimida sin!«). Sinthgunt is an otherwise unknown goddess but is here said to be the sister of the goddess Sunna, the personified Sun, and Frija is in Old Norse sources known as the goddess Frigg, the wife of Odin. Here she is the sister of Volla, a goddess also associated with Frigg in Old Norse sources (Old Norse Fulla).

Other than these scant few mentions, the continental mythology is limited to scattered bits and pieces, small echoes of what once was, such as the Nordendorf I fibula; a 6th or 7th century brooch found in a grave all the way down in Bavaria that features a runic inscription. The inscription mentions the names of at least two gods, Þonar (Thor) and Wodan (Odin), in an unclear context. Fortunately material from Scandinavia offers far more insight.

 

••• Scandinavia and Norse Mythology

In 12th century Denmark, the historian Saxo Grammaticus authored a series of Latin volumes called Gesta Danorum (»The History of the Danes«). In the early volumes of this work, Saxo produces a narrative that includes a handful of deities. Unfortunately, although Saxo claims to accurately represent his source material, he seems to have done anything but; Saxo presents a heavily moralized narrative for his own purposes and makes no attempts at objectivity. As a result, Gesta Danorum is a highly problematic source for Norse mythology.

However, it is when we turn to the tiny island of Iceland that we get a real look at a late form of the mythology that we are only allowed short glimpses of in the continental sources. Iceland, apparently Christianized by way of pressured compromise rather than military force, had incubated its ancient arts and felt bold enough to put them to parchment. It is on Iceland where, in the 13th century, two enigmatic Old Norse works were produced that are our most important records of Germanic mythology; the Eddas.

The first of the Eddas is now popularly known as the Poetic Edda, and, as the name hints, it consists of a collection of numerous poems. These poems almost exclusively deal with Norse mythology. The Poetic Edda was compiled for unknown reasons by an anonymous individual, by way of unknown, almost certainly oral informants. The second work, generally known nowadays as the Prose Edda, consists of four books that mainly consist of prose. Written by the prolific and learned Icelander Snorri, the Prose Edda is a manual for skalds, a class of traditional poets in Scandinavian society that included both males and females. Poets of this sort were likely once widespread throughout all of Germanic society. The Prose Edda quotes from and explains material found in the Poetic Edda and contains a large amount of material unique to it, such as archaic works by individual skalds reaching hundreds of years before Christianization.

Taken together, the Eddas paint a picture of a vibrant and complex cosmology. At the center of all is the immense, celestial tree Yggdrasill, whose roots reach beyond comprehension. Upon this tree lives a variety of beasts that include four noble stags and an insult-carrying squirrel, while around the tree exists Nine Worlds. In these worlds dwells a variety of beings, including elves, dwarfs, monsters, jǫtnar (singular jǫtunn), mankind, and, yes, gods. According to this scheme, we humans dwell in Miðgarðr, the middle-enclosure, whereas the gods mainly dwell in the sky in a realm called Ásgarðr, the god-enclosure. Mankind’s relation to the gods is intimate; upon encountering driftwood on a beach, the trio decided to make from it the first two human beings, Askr and Embla. The cosmos are made up of abstract personifications and vibrant metaphor. The Sun (Sól), a goddess that we met earlier on the continent, is chased every day by a wolf, while the Moon (Máni), joined by two children, is chased by another wolf. The Earth (Jǫrð) is personified as a goddess, the mother of the god Thor, while the Day (Dagr) is a shining god daily passing his dark female counterpart, Night (Nòtt). The world itself, the sky that surrounds it, and the clouds that pass above it are composed of the elemental pieces of the fallen ur-jǫtunn, Ymir, a hermaphroditic, primordial being, a likely echo of the Tuisto mentioned by Tacitus around 1,200 years prior.

Most of the myths center on the dealings and relations between the gods and the jǫtnar (often inaccurately translated as »giants«), somewhat god-like beings who intermarry with, are related to, or come into conflict with the gods. While numerous gods are mentioned in the Eddas and while the number of goddesses that appear in the text notably eclipse the number of gods, the Old Norse texts often focus on the exploits and adventures of the gods Odin and Thor.

The one-eyed, spear-wielding god Odin (Óðinn), flanked by two ravens whose names are Huginn (»thought«) and Muninn (»memory«) and two wolves named Geri and Freki (whose names both mean »desirous, ravenous«), is the subject of many of the poems found in the Poetic Edda. Similarly to the Old English Nine Herbs Charm that we visited earlier where Woden is said to be a founder of an alphabet, we are told that Odin hung himself from Yggdrasill for nine nights to gain the secret of the runic alphabet, which passed on to mankind. Ever thirsting for knowledge, Odin gave one of his eyes to the well of knowledge, Mímisbrunnr, and with him carries the herb-embalmed head of the well’s namesake owner, Mímir. The head speaks to him and tells him secrets. Often disguised as a long-bearded old man, Odin’s thirst for knowledge leads him to wager his own head in verbal battles of wit. Upon his eight-legged steed Sleipnir, this thirst for knowledge even brings him beyond the world of the living; to Hel, the name of both a location and goddess that extends from the same Germanic origin as our modern word Hell. There he asks from the dead hints of what will be. It is therefore fitting that Odin’s wife, Frigg, is able to see into the future—yet she tells no one what will be.

Described in Old Norse sources as the son of Earth and Odin, the god Thor (Þórr) was the most popular god during the Viking Age, a period generally held to have lasted from 793 to around the 11th century. Many personal names and place names from this period contain his name and inscriptions on runestones invoke his protection. Representations of his particularly shaped hammer, Mjǫlnir, were commonly worn during the Viking Age among believers. With its ability to crush mountain ranges, Thor uses this hammer to assault his foes, yet it may also be used to give blessings. Thor is a ferocious  god whose anger inspires terror in those that witness it but is also good-humored. He protects mankind and rides a chariot led by the goats Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr (»teeth-snarler« and »teeth-grinder«) and is sometimes accompanied by a boy and girl (Thjálfi and Rǫskva) who act as his servants and helpers. Thor’s name transparently means »thunder«, and his earth-associated, gold-haired wife, Sif, has been seen by scholars as embodying fields of golden wheat. In this sense, we are thus provided the image of storm clouds rolling over vast wheat fields, the showers upon the grain resulting in sustenance and health among mankind.

While it is Odin and Thor that we hear most about, perhaps due to the royal associations of the informants or the compiler, members of a family of deities known as the Vanir also receive frequent mention. This family of deities includes the goddess Freyja (the »Lady«), her brother Freyr (the »Lord«), and their father Njǫrðr (whose name is linguistically a descendant of the Nerthus who we heard about from Tacitus so long ago). Freyja is the most commonly mentioned goddess and was clearly one of the most important in the mythology. It is with Freyja that Odin must split half of the dead in battle; Odin’s share goes to the hall Valhǫll and Freyja’s share goes to her field Fólkvangr. A complex deity, Freyja owns a cloak of falcon feathers, weeps tears of gold, and owns a famously splendid necklace. Freyja is connected with witchcraft, cats, sex, and death.

Details about the many gods and goddesses and their associated mythology require far more than the space I am here allotted. Those who delve deeper than this paper will read about how the god Freyr gave up his self-fighting sword for the love of the beautiful jǫtunn Gerðr and thus must face his inevitable demise; about the arrival of the fierce skiing goddess Skaði, who comes down from her mountains for vengeance before choosing among the gods to marry based on their feet alone; about the death of the god Baldr (who we earlier met in Old High German), who dies by way of the mistletoe arrow of his blind brother Hǫðr, an act engineered by the malice of the half-god Loki; about the abduction of the apple-bearing goddess Iðunn, whose husband is the skaldic god Bragi; about the norns, valkyries, and the dísir, female beings associated with fate who are much like the »mothers« and »ladies« we encountered earlier; about the first war, the Æsir-Vanir War, which ended in a truce where all the gods spat into a cauldron, and from this the wisest of beings was born, Kvasir, who thereafter traveled the land spreading knowledge before he was murdered and his blood distilled as the Mead of Poetry; and about the foretold events of Ragnarǫk, during which the gods and their foes ride to battle, ending in the burning and rebirth of the world, a reinvigorated world to be populated by returning gods, their descendants, and two humans who hid in the woods of Yggdrasill, Líf and Lífþrasir.

From the haunting to the humorous, many myths await the reader of Norse mythology, well beyond those that are described here. Still, the myths are at times highly mysterious in what they don’t say; for example, why is there no discussion of the thousands of stone ships from the heathen period that speckle the Scandinavian landscapes? [x] Scholarship continues to tease out details and offer answers to these mysteries.

 

••• Folklore and Scholarship

Although we have no material nearly as extensive as the Old Norse material on the continent (and doubtlessly the lore was just as rich), detectable elements of what once was are found in folklore, where traces of earlier myths may be encountered. As late as the 11th century, edicts were being issued against pagan practices in England, and deities are still mentioned by name—in some cases quite in line with the functions described in the pagan period—in folklore records well as late as the 20th century.

However, it was the continued cherishing of this mythology among the Icelanders that brought the myths that we have today to us. After the 13th century, manuscript copies of the Eddas continued to be made in Iceland—no inexpensive labor—all the way up until the 17th century, when editions were printed in Latin and Danish, bringing the Eddas to a much wider audience and sparking a reinvigoration in Norse and general Germanic mythology in Europe. The discovery and translation of texts such as the Eddas resulted in the academic discipline of Germanic philology or Germanic studies.

Of the many faces and hands in this field, the most notable appeared in the 19th century; the linguist and folklorist Jacob Grimm (1785-1863), who the reader may best know as one of the Brothers Grimm. To say that Grimm was an important figure for the study of Germanic mythology would be an understatement. Due to his scientific innovations in the area of linguistics, Grimm’s influence reaches well beyond the Germanic sphere, and some scholars consider Grimm to be to the humanities what Charles Darwin was to the life sciences. Grimm’s four-volume compendium Teutonic Mythology (German Deutsche Mythologie) remains an important work to this day.

Since Grimm’s time, mountains of pages have been produced on the subject of Germanic mythology, and his work has been much questioned, developed, and innovated upon. Beyond Grimm, the modern study of Germanic mythology owes much to the scholars Jan de Vries (1890-1964) and Georges Dumézil (1898-1986), who inspired new generations of scholars and brought the study more in line with an Indo-European and modern linguistic framework. A body of works by British scholars E. O. G. Turville-Petre (1908-1978) and particularly Hilda Ellis Davidson (1914-2006) provided fantastic English introductions to Norse and Germanic mythology for the English-speaking general public—myself included!—through the post-World War II period. Nowadays handbooks by active English language scholars Rudolf Simek, Andy Orchard, and John Lindow are only a computer click away, and increasingly quality Wikipedia entries for even the most obscure of topics may be found on the internet free of cost.

 

••• The Gods Among Us

Outside of modern academia the gods are still with us in many ways. In most Germanic languages, the days of the week are still named after Germanic deities. We all know Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday; in other words, the day of the Sun, the Moon, the god Tiw (Tyr), the god Woden (Odin), the god Thunor (Thor), and the goddess Frige (Frigg). Various given names still contain the names of deities and other beings; Alfred literally means »elf advice«, whereas Ingrid means »beauty of the god Ing«, a name you may remember from Tacitus that is perhaps the true name of the important Norse fertility god Freyr. The modern Danish form of the name of his beautiful and ferocious sister Freyja, Freja, has remained one of the most popular names for Danish girls for the past decade [w].  And these are only a few examples. References to the mythology are all around us.

From the translations, fiction, and poetry of the British socialist polymath William Morris (1834-1896) and the influence he had on the British academic and author J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973), to the works of the German composer and conductor Richard Wagner (1813-1883), and even up to the American 2011 Marvel comics film Thor, Germanic mythology has proven to be a sporadic wellspring to the arts. With the amount of resources and information rapidly available in the modern world, this tradition shows no sign of ending. Gods such as Thor are more and more again becoming household names.

In the religious sphere the gods have also returned. In the last 100 years, the veneration of the old gods has been revived and continues to rapidly grow. In 2009, America’s first openly heathen politician, Dan Halloran, came to office in Queens, New York under the Republican ticket. In 2012, the Ásatrúarfélagið (»Asatru Association«), now the largest non-Christian religious group in Iceland [v],  celebrated its 40th anniversary by donating 2 million Icelandic krónur (about 16,000 US dollars or about 12,800 Euros) to the Icelandic Coast Guard’s helicopter fund.

Germanic mythology is alive and well in 2012.

 

Text | Joseph S. Hopkins, University of Georgia

Joseph S. Hopkins would like to thank Haukur Þorgeirsson, Juliana Roost, Dr. Alexander Sager and Rebecca Brooks for their feedback while writing this article.

Illustration | Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) inspired by Richard Wagner’s Germanic mythology-inspired opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. Courtesy of the artist

Sources |

[z] Other terms in regular use include Common Germanic or sometimes—simply enough—Germanic.

[y] Näsström, Britt-Mari (1995). Freyja – The Great Goddess of the North, page 21. Lund Studies in History of Religions: Volume 5. University of Lund, Sweden.

[x] For a 2011 article authored by Haukur Þorgeirsson and myself on this topic, see »The Ship in the Field« as published in The Retrospective Methods Network Newsletter, No. 3, December 2011. The University of Helsinki. ISSN-L: 1799-4497

[w] Statistics Denmark federal website, 2012: http://www.dst.dk/da/Statistik/emner/navne/NamesPop.aspx

[v] Statistics Iceland federal website, 2012: http://www.statice.is/Statistics/Population/Religious-organizations

Full article here.

BENOÎT POLVÊCHE

   

The following article was published in N-SPHERE July 2012 issue.

 

:: Hello, Benoît and welcome to the Spheres. We are glad to have been introduced to your interesting works. To get us started, could you tell us a bit about what you do and when did you start this project?

I started this project more or less twenty years ago. At the beginning, I was studying Plastic Arts and at the same time I was very invested in an artists’ associations creating events. There were some places we needed to furnish and I have created a series of tables and chairs in an »art-brut-industrial« way,  composed of mechanical parts recovered and welded. I was  asked by the school of art to answer to multiple conceptual questions and justifications that were more castrating than liberating, at least, from the point of view of the furniture, I could just »sit on my work«. With time, my objects became more sculptural than functional and the recovery parts disappear, giving way to fully hand-made metal. So now I make sculptures with a very organic aesthetic. I mix species of the living, each sculpture being a new open way to the following sculpture.

:: In the biography on your site, it is mentioned that you have lost interest in academic teachings. What is your educational background and how relevant was it for your present artistic project?

I think I just wasted my time at the University of Arts, or rather, I spent there the time required for maturation, but I did not learn much. This teaching was purely theoretical and literary, with almost no practice in a workshop. From a technical point of view, I am completely self taught. »It’s by forging that one becomes a blacksmith« (Practice makes perfect).

:: Do you believe that some art schools nowadays are still focusing on auto-conservation and building more or less closed networks?

I don’t really know, I stopped going to schools, but it is indeed a great tendency of schools to operate in a closed circle.

:: You’ve exhibited your works in many places, how have they been received so far?

I think very well. People are generally impressed by the very organic structure I give to the metal, although generally they do not realize the work implied. Most people think that the pieces are molded and cast, and not that is handmade.

:: You’re constantly adding interesting pieces to what is growing to be a vast bestiarum. How do you choose the subjects for your sculptures and drawings?

In general, this comes by itself. I have different themes linking the bios and the mixture, the remix. The forms the feeds the technique and the technique gives access to new forms. Also, I constantly feed my imagination by visiting the museum of natural science, looking at works on insects, plants, underwater life.

:: The sculptures seem almost real, revealing a careful attention to details. Is it important for your works to »seem« real or to »become« real, thus enabling mutations?

Yes, of course! Even if they are still made of metal, the material is only  a medium that offers great opportunities from a formal point of view, in fact, all the possibilities, it is only the technique that can limit form, and our imagination, but the technique and the imagination can always be exceeded, this is what makes this research inexhaustible.

:: Your body of work seems to be very much in connection with the times we are living in: the apparent nature-technology dichotomy is not only a consequence but also a condition to functioning as a human being. How do you re-problematize this issue in your works?

No doubt that it is a strong impression given by these forms of nature embodied in the steel which is material usually used to create structures, machinery, cars. Conceiving these very organic beings in their totally opposite medium, the iron coming from a mineral and technological world, therefore a rather cold universe, gives a strong and very fertile impression for the mind when one sees the sculptures.

:: Do you believe that nature and technology should be seen as two opposing poles or it is more of one being the extension of the other?

We clearly live in a society where these are two opposite poles, but it would be good to reunite them, as far as we can. Like for instance the shamanic societies that have a lot of things for us to learn from them, and besides, more and more people bring this kind of teaching to us.

:: How does metal convey the organic feeling of your sculptures?

It is certainly the technique. I wheel a lot, for smoothing, I also work only with curved shapes, not even a piece is left without a change in shape. I come back, more and more, to a matter that is  more textured than smooth, and I work more and more with high temperatures, in the forge or with a blowtorch.

:: What are you working on at the moment?

Hmm… food orders especially, mostly furniture. There is also a large sculpture of big dimensions around a tree at the corner of a street in Brussels. For personal work, I regularly shift from a theme to another, for the moment, there is the floral theme dominating, but I had left it aside for several years, what will it come after, skulls, bones, insects, shellfish? I think that the hysterical underwater theme will return at full gallop.

:: What elements are part of your artistic sphere, in terms of inspirations and things that you cherish?

All living forms, wholly or in detail. First, the wild forms of the aquatic world, then the bones, plants and insects, and finally the insects. In fact, all that is natural but surprising, where we can find a certain uncanny strangeness. Regarding art, what inspires me is art nouveau, the fantastic arts and the low-brow movement.

Questions | Diana Daia

Translation from French | Maria Bungău

Artwork | Benoît Polvêche. 2011. Vanitae. Courtesy of the artist

Full article here.

MISHIMA: DEATH AS SOMETHING TO BE SEEN

   

The following article was published in N-SPHERE June 2012 issue.

»What distinguishes the heroic from the decadent death? (…) What difference there might be resolves itself into the presence or absence of the idea of honour, which regards death as »something to be seen«, and the presence or absence of the formal aesthetic of death that goes with it, in other words the tragic nature of the approach to death and the beauty of the body going to its doom.« [z]

In 1949, then in his early twenties, Yukio Mishima publishes Confessions of a Mask, his first novel which also brought him to international attention: it portrays the largely autobiographical character of a young Japanese man who, throughout his childhood and his youth, come to build a complex but painfully ill-fitting persona in order to satisfy the pressing demands of the post-war Japanese society, most notably in terms of his sexuality. A decade later, we find Yukio Mishima, his own homosexuality a relatively open secret, somehow continuing where his character was left in the story: now married he is expecting his first daughter, Noriko.

In the meantime, on the other side of the pacific, merely three years older than Mishima, sociologist Erving Goffman publishes a book that will change radically both the material and the method of his discipline: The Presentation of the Self in Every Day Life argues that human interactions are best interpreted as those of characters acted out by actors, and that places and objects can, or must be, perceived as sets and props. Goffman’s work and it’s powerful latent aesthetic participated, with Borges, Burke and I in setting the foundations for the mise en abyme narratives championed by Charlie Kaufmann, but also certainly planted the seeds that would grow into what Mathew Wilson Smith coined Total Performance, that is life in its entirety, as a performance and a work of art.

The metaphor of theatre for social life is by no mean an invention of Mishima or of Goffman: the Latin root persona means a mask and the analogies of theatricality were long used to discuss a variety of diegesis and mimesis: the ins and out of characters and social roles, the Socratic dialogue of Ion of Ephesus or even the Platonician duality between the real the staged stand amongst many others in a variety of cultures (»At first tragedies were brought on the stage as means of reminding men of the things which happen to them, and that it is according to nature for things to happen so, and that, if you are delighted with what is shown on the stage, you should not be troubled with that which takes place on the larger stage.« [y]. But Goffman seems the first to have interpreted social life, as a whole, as a form of theatre. The ensuing approach that developed we call social dramaturgy and this was to take part in some major shifts in the arts in general and in performance in particular.

»All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant«

Whereas Goffman sees the theatrics and the dramaturgy in every day life and the most common interactions, Mishima will dedicate his life to re-writing and hijacking not only his harshly shortened take on Shakespeare’s seven acts, but also of the entire performance of modern political history. His very failure on the political stage, will be the necessary condition for his spectacular achievement in the drama of his own life.

»Politicians are concerned with the effect of an act, and effectiveness  is not my motivation. My responsibility is to the act itself.« [v]

Yukio Mishima, born Kimitake Hiroaka had a very sheltered childhood, due to a feeble disposition and an overprotective grand-mother, and was of his own confession, left out of the social life of boys until he reached adulthood – some biographies expand on hints present in Confession of a Mask, asserting he was attributing his own homosexuality to those circumstances, while others of his works most notably Forbidden Colours or Sun and Steel could suggest different interpretations; However he developed early a very bookish disposition and immersed himself, in this isolation, in Eastern and Japanese traditional culture which were to take under his pen, a distinctly eroticized aspect:

In his most famous story The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (1956) he develops in many ways the aching urge for the sublime that lead him throughout his life: whereas he himself and critics occasionally regard others of his works as superior in their maturity and insight (After The Banquet or The Sea of Fertility) the short story seems to capture both the romanticism and youthful boldness of his earlier work, and the more articulated expression of his world view as fulfilled in his death.

In the next 15 years or so he will perfect his style and write many novels, short stories, plays and films, defining a literary style that meshes the refined and traditional aesthetics of Japanese poetry with a modern, angular, sometimes brutal narration, contrasting painfully human characters with their otherworldly aspirations. The label of nihilist that was apposed to him (and which he co-opted) came lately under increasing questioning and is in my eye misleading given the transcendental quality of his ideas of nothingness – yet, if the looming sense of the futility of all action is not present in all of his work there was certainly a deep misanthropy that took part in leading him to the radical idealism he lived and died for.

»I was there alone and the Golden Temple – the absolute, positive Golden Temple – had enveloped me. Did I possess the temple, or was I possessed by it? Or would it not be more correct to say that a strange balance had come into being at that moment, a balance which would allow me to be the Golden Temple and the Golden Temple to be me?« [u]

His books often tell the us of an encounter with the sublime, either in the form of the sacred or in the form of transgression: it seems that for him the two remain inexorably bound together, whether it is the sacred that free one of the absurd and degenerate conditions of the norm, or the transgression that reveal a world of beauty and absolute behind the heavy curtain of the quotidian. His stories, unlike those of his celebrated contemporaries Tanizaki and Kawabata, are in terms of structure closer to the occidental traditional model, and despite their exotic aesthetics, provide the reader with a rewarding dramatic development, which probably part-took in his western popularity. And this is one of the many reproaches the Japanese (and some of the Occidental) medias have been wielding against his ghost, and one that can hardly be denied: for all of his heroic, intransigent nationalism, Mishima was aware, and fond, of his occidental recognition. For a celebrated high-brow writer he was indulging in a variety of unexpected incursions in the domain of pop-culture, as many »publicity stunts« would say his detractors, from acting in popular action gangster-flicks to posing nude or commenting on an astonishing number of sometimes odd cultural phenomena.

»Dress my body in a Shield Society uniform, give me white gloves and a soldier’s sword in my hand, and then do me the favour of taking a photograph. My family may object, but I want evidence that I died not as a literary man but as a warrior.« [t]

This enthusiasm for gaudy popular forms is reminiscent, in its wide sweeps across high and low culture, of another of his American contemporaries, Andy Warhol. Although Mishima’s dedication to ideal beauty and sacrifice seems worlds apart from Warhol’s endorsement of ruthless, individualistic capitalism, and his disturbing fascination for its paradoxical shortcomings, there are beyond political differences, striking similarities. Warhol’s practice made an extensive use of self-portrait and can be regarded as an attempt to enforce absolute control over his public persona: »Business Art. Art Business. The business Art business«. As he writes in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (1975), involves his taking self-marketing to radical new heights. From his screen prints to the 1967 Utah impersonated lecture, in flooding mass culture with products and representation in every form and at every level, he discredits alien accounts or interpretations that could potentially hi-jack his image (as exemplified in his famous ad »I’ll endorse with my name any of the following…« in Village Voice).

Mishima’s media conscious character was never perfected to the level of Warhol’s one, nor included the in-built intricacies that made the American so difficult to use or to tarnish. The Japanese writer did share his want for total control over his life, both from within and from without: One of his biographers, Henry Scott Stokes, quotes him confiding »I want to make a poem of my life«, and to achieve his grand project Mishima needed complete control. This pursuit is apparent in his interests in body building and martial arts (The Sun and the Steel) and I find his much derided outings in the realms of the mass media to be attempts at devising an equivalent discipline to master his »public body«.

But unlike Warhol, his dabbling in mass media never made him the two-dimensional, inhumane signifier that Warhol was: his life and his work still appears to us as contradictory, imperfect, flawed and deeply human: in Sun and Steel (1968), defining tragedy he writes »when a perfectly average sensibility momentarily takes on to itself a privileged nobility that keeps others at a distance and not when a special type of sensibility vaunts its own special claims«. One can be tempted to see in his acting for Black Lizard or Afraid to Die, a portrayal of that »perfectly average sensibility«.

In interviews Mishima was reportedly keen to compare himself to Don Quixote, certainly echoing his fondness for the Spanish golden age – but obviously the analogy does not stop here. Cervantes’ character peculiar form of madness springs from having read too many chivalric novels and transposing, inadequately but with great perseverance, those ideals into the real world. This attempt at re-uniting the original duality of the real and the ideal is clearly present in Mishima’s glorification of the man of action, but he also wants to be both Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, both the idealist and the witness. The very comparison he draws between himself and the Spanish knight evidence his awareness of that fact, as he probably lacks the necessary, tragic madness to truly believe in his political windmills. His heroic quest, void of the necessary madness, becomes a performance.

»17. Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the author pleases to make it. If short, of a short one; if long, of a long one. If it is his pleasure you should act a poor man, a cripple, a governor, or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For this is your business, to act well the character assigned you; to choose it is another’s.« [s]

Mishima’s hubris left him no place to act out any »plan for life« but the one would write. According to his biographers, Nietzsche and Oscar Wilde left him the biggest impression after his teenage readings. If Nietzsche’s pervasive influence can be felt throughout the influence of Wilde certainly part-took in the building of his total performance: in his short dialogue The Decay of Lying, Wilde dispenses his provocative theory: it is not, as established since ancient philosophy, art that imitates life, but life that imitates art.

»If it drew some of its strength from using life as rough material, it drew all its weakness from using life as an artistic method.«[r]

Wilde attacks realism for being dull and, ultimately for being wrong: art, in the words of his main character originated in abstract forms, that were later imitated by life (»Art begins with abstract decoration, with purely imaginative and pleasurable work dealing with what is unreal and non-existent. This is the first stage. Then Life becomes fascinated with this new wonde«”) – for Mishima art begin with the idealized, heroic Japan of the Hagakure, that is on the brink of fading away for ever from modern Japan, which fails to perpetuate the tradition of beauty. For Wilde, lying will restore art in its proper position that realism has pretty much extinguished.

The idea of decay, and decay of lying, is very present in Mishima’s work: a Spenglerian sense of imminent doom permeates most of his work. Societal, individual and possibly metaphysical decline is nowhere as central as in the tetralogy The Sea of Fertility, and, as for other traditionalists, attempts at interrupting the process corruption appear to the author futile but none the less necessary: in Wilde’s text, at the very end of the dialogue, the main interlocutor, betraying half of his previous argumentation against nature and fresh air, command his friend to take a stroll outside, proving that the argumentation, in its entirety is ultimately a lie and therefore an artwork.

»The Nihilist, that strange martyr who has no faith, who goes to the stake without enthusiasm, and dies for what he does not believe in, is a purely literary product.« [q]

Throughout the sixties, while Mishima and Warhol are at the top of their career, from the fallouts of Action Painting and the rising political awareness, performance art is blossoming all around the world with movements such as Fluxus or Gutai.

From Austria rose one the most virulent expressions of this new form: in the space of approximately ten years, the Viennese Actionists staged a variety of Aktionen in an orgy of blood, bowels, scat and sex giving rise to a wave of indignation that would lead them to regularly experience legal pursuits and sometimes jail. »Performance art«, in the eyes of the Actionists, was aimed at creating an artistic manifestation that could not be commodified by the state or the system. We find here a clear echo of Mishima’s own political concerns, and it is interesting to note that the Mühl/Brus Actionist manifesto share its title Art and Revolution with one of Wagner’s first texts on the relationship between politics and aesthetics: Mishima was to pick Wagner (predictably) for the music of his short movie Patriotism prefiguring his own suicide.

Of the four core members of the Vienna Actionists, three adopted a relative unconcerned but similar approach, celebrating chaos and transgression on the backdrop of a pagan cathartic ritual, while the fourth character remain a lot more enigmatic: Rudolf Schwarzkogler produced few performances and they were often little documented, he died in tragic and relatively mysterious circumstances in 1969. The case of Rudolf Schwarzkogler shed a particular light on Mishima’s death a bit more than a year later: the actionist’s death was reported by Newsweek as having resulted from one too many an extreme performance, when, attempting to chop his penis into slices he would have lost too much blood and died on the spot. Years later it is now widely accepted that this version of the death of Schwarzkogler was constructed either for sensationalist purpose or to cover the real circumstances of his death following a fall from a window – whether the fall was intentional or not has not been certified yet but the more glamorous option of a suicide remain the dominant narrative.

»To place oneself in the position of God is painful: being God is equivalent to being tortured. For being God means that one is in harmony with all that is, including the worst. The existence of the worst evils is unimaginable unless God willed them.« [p]

Schwarzkogler’s pursuit is more difficult to define, because of the scarcity of theoretical documentation, and because of the form and mood of the one that reached us – ascetic dietary suggestions, disjunct and esoteric instructions for future performances, and a number of lists whose purpose could not be identified. At the very opposite of Warhol’s permanent media awareness, the Austrian performer seemed a very private individual, who performed most of his rare Aktionen in front of an extremely limited audience, if any audience at all. Those performances generally took place in his own flat and involved a highly controlled environment and a restrained aesthetic, miles away from the Dionysiac celebrations of the rest of his fellow actionists. For example, from his notes one can gather that his performances incorporated important colour symbolism, yet most are documented in black and white: This lack of suitable documentation and the total disregard he showed for either press or audience in his work led many commentators to see his practice as being eminently personal and sometimes therapeutic, cathartic, imbued with an urgency that keep them on the verge of outsider art.

»Lord Naoshige said, The Way of the Samurai is in desperateness. Ten men or more cannot kill such a man. Commonsense will not accomplish great things. Simply become insane and desperate.« [o]

Hagakure is an XVIIIth century book describing in detail the prescriptions of the author concerning the ways and beliefs of the proper samurai – the book enjoy a unique status in Japanese culture for crystallizing the chivalric ideals considered as the height of the tradition, while also being deeply tangled with Japanese nationalist thought, kamikaze and militarism in general – if a comparison had to be drawn, Wagner springs to mind again: although presented by the nationalists as the epitome of vitalism and martial value, Hagakure was actually written in a time of peace were samurai-s were more rarely drawn to fight than to administrative duties. A fascinating read it is also ridden with nostalgia for a lost era of valour and dignity, values it presses the young to adopt less as a tool towards achieving anything than as a method to live a life one can die proud of.

In 1967, Mishima published On Hagakure in which he develops on the central role that the text played in philosophy. One core concept in his interpretations is centrality of death in the proper existence of the samurai. The Hagakure ceaselessly invite the samurai to think about his own death to the point of becoming so familiar with the idea that it would arouse no fear. One should, Mishima adds, not only welcome death but even actively pursue it: as the most absolute embodiment of the beautiful ideals leading  the warrior’s life.

»A real man does not think of victory or defeat. He plunges recklessly towards an irrational death. By doing this, you will awaken from your dreams.« [n]

Less emphasized by Mishima but certainly determinant for his future thought was the importance of the daimyo, the master, for whom the samurai total and unconditional dedication has a mystique (or erotic for some commentators) appeal – for a XXth century civilian like Mishima, the direct, individual relationship with a daimyo is impossible and his blind faith is therefore deported onto the last remnant of the transcendental hierarchy, but also its most axial figure, the emperor. Mishima’s relationship to the emperor is a complex one – the national catastrophe that put an end to WWII and initiated the American occupation striped the emperor of any political function but did not abolish the imperial hierarchy, and Mishima held this bastardized condition in awe, sometimes even more than he did for the fully westernized post-war economy.

But that criticism, obviously, was not enough to distract from him the ire of the radical student left which was, in Japan as everywhere in the western world, arising to criticize American hegemony which in Mishima’s country was all the more literal. Red Army groups flourished around the country ultra-left student groups were regularly confronting the authority – their political program, as opposed to Japan’s forced Americanisation as Mishima’s own diatribes were, was also internationalist, communist and materialist in ways irreconcilable with the novelist’s Samurai ethics. Although Mishima repeatedly expressed sympathy for the radical left he was occasionally insulted and mocked by figures of the left and students. Following fifteen years of American occupation and growth oriented politics, in the sixties, Japanese culture produced a large amount of books, films, theatre, music and comics, and the particular Japanese outlook started getting renewed interest in the west, spear-headed by charismatic ambassadors like Yoko Ono, Nagasi Oshima or Kisho Kurokawa. Yukio Mishima himself, although supported and promoted by the older and very popular writer Kawabata, became increasingly alienated from the Japanese literary scene, who, predominantly left-wing, stomached with difficulty his repeated vows of allegiance to the nationalist cause.

Mishima seemed to gather more popularity in the movie industry: maybe his professed preference for actions over words lent itself better, at the end of the day, to performance than to writing. A close friend of Donald Richie, the most prominent expert and promoter of Japanese cinema in the west he acted and directed a short film called Yukoku, based on his much celebrated short story Patriotism (1966). His incursion in popular movies is also pictured in Terayama’s classic counterculture movie Emperor Tomato Ketchup, if in a certainly less ceremonious fashion…

Yukoku in many aspects refuses to submit to even the most fundamental contemporary conventions: the plot, following precisely the short story builds no momentum or suspense. The film itself is shot in black and white and uses scrolls to replace dialogues, while the set design and the acting, slow, calculated and ritual, is referencing Noh theatre. The story depicts the ritual suicide of an army lieutenant and his wife in support of an attempted coup to restore the glory of the Japanese empire: it is of course an other one of Mishima’s oracles as to his future destiny. It is interesting to note that of all his text and plays Mishima picked this particular short-story and went to stage it as filmed theatre, rather than one of his many theatre, Noh and Kabuki pieces.

He was also known for his disdain of Bunraku, the elaborate Japanese puppetry, which he dismissed as being devoid of the essence of performance: film seemed to have in his eyes lacked »the essence of performance« just as much. This tension between the classicist tradition and the new media, between his rigorous inner life and his need to perform it to an audience, is to be found throughout most of his non-literary output: Ba Ra Kei, his modelling shoot with celebrated Japanese photographer Eikoh Hosoe, captures, at times movingly a certain vulnerability and awkwardness in his public persona, possibly revealing of his fundamental inability to reconcile his heroic longings with lascivious abandon of mass-media.

»Before Hosoe’s camera, I soon realized that my own spirit, the workings of my mind, had become totally redundant. It was an exhilarating experience, a state of affairs I had long dreamed of.« [m]

The German terminology of Gesamtkunstwerk, roughly originating in Wagner’s project of fusing music, poetry, painting, theatre, dance and all other arts he could include, hints at a seamless artwork, a microcosm of sort under complete control of it’s creator. In his book The Total Work of Art, Mathew Wilson Smith draw a daring parallel between the »spatial« Gesamtkunstwerk à la Wagner and the total performance of the self, as represented by Warhol, and, to me, by Mishima and maybe by Schwarzkogler. Indeed the lives of those artists in the burgeoning age of the mass media involved many forms of arts, from their original practice in painting, writing or graphics, evolved to encompass music, film or happening – but what they strived to achieve, and Bayreuth couldn’t ever dream to fulfill, was the fusion of those many artistic practices with the artist himself, with the art of living – and the art of dying.

»I just finished the novel on the very day of my action in order to realize my Bunbu-Ryodo. After thinking and thinking through four years, I came to wish to sacrifice myself for the old, beautiful tradition of Japan, which is disappearing very quickly day by day. I wish you the happiest and healthiest life.« [l]

The Japanese terminology Bun means Culture Arts, Bu means Warrior Arts and Ryodo stands for Synthesis. The Bunbu Ryodo is part of the traditional samurai ideal and involves an all around knowledge of traditional Japanese arts, from music to calligraphy, floral arrangements or poetry. It is traditionally complemented by the concept of Bunbu Ichi, the »Unity of the Culture and Warrior arts«.

Throughout his life and his writings, as his existence was coming to a close Mishima’s interest in literature seemed to wane, or at least he liked to pretend so: as best exemplified in his commentary of the Hagakure and Sun and Steel, the influence of the Yomei philosophy lead him to a mystical glorification of action over words, as if, to realise his Bunbu-Ryodo, much action was needed to balance all the words of his literary career.

Such an ambitious synthesis for Mishima like for Wagner, sits somewhere between romanticism and modernism. In a Japan were tradition and modernity or action and theory were becoming ever more polarised, this pursuit was bound to create conflicting aspirations, conflicting allegiances too, and death appeared throughout his work as the absolute solution for those situations as for all compromises. Too fond of beauty to be Warhol and too keen on public attention to be Schwarzkogler, Mishima was hovering somewhere in between on the scale of the total performance.

Mishima, Warhol or Schwarzklogger, each in exercising such unrelenting control over their public persona, had the intent of transcending the dramaturgic paradigm, the separation between the genuine and the pretence. Warhol’s approach to the »total performance of the self« differs radically from the one of Mishima: Warhol wanted to extinguish the actor, to leave only a mask, and to make the void behind the mask all the more conspicuous whereas Mishima attempted to fusion the mask and its wearer, for the actor to become his character. At any rate both wished to dissolve the fundamental diegesis as outlined by Goffman – for Warhol this was death of the conscious, the dissolution of the individual in the image and the product, but for Mishima, to achieve this death was the only solution.

Sources |
[z] Yukio Mishima, Sun and Steel, 1970.
[y] Antoninus xi 6
[w] Jacques in William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II Scene 7
[v] Mishima, reported in a posthumous article in The New Yorker 12.12.1970
[u] Mishima, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion
[t] Yukio Mishima, Letter to Kanemaro Izawa on 24.11.1970 containing instructions regarding his own suicide.
[s] Epictetus, Enchiridion
[r] Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying – An observation, 1891
[q] Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying – An observation, 1891
[p] Georges Bataille in Bataille, Feydeau and God, interview in France-Observateur, 1957
[o] Hagakure, Yamamoto Tsunemoto, 1709-1716
[n] Hagakure, Yamamoto Tsunemoto, 1709-1716
[m] Yukio Mishima, Preface to Eikoh Hosoe’s Ba-Ra-Kei, 1961
[l] Mishima in a farewell letter to an American friend, as reported in The New Yorker 12.12.1970

artwork | Yukio Mishima & Shintaro Ishihara. 1956.

by Bertrand Marilier

Full article here.