Blogging “O”:

Margaret Drabble:
“The most erotic book I ever read was an anonymous novel called L’Histoire d’O, which I think was by a woman called Pauline Réage. It was a sado-masochistic romp and I was given a copy in France in the 1960s when it was probably illegal in England.”

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I am reminded that Histoire d’O means (if it means anything at all) many things to as many people. This week I received an email claiming the “alternative” end scene of Story of O (in which ‘O’ chooses death) should be played out to a rendition of the Nazi party anthem Horst Wessel Leid; 

“What Reage’s novel has given us is not an erotic experience.” my writer maintaines, “Reage has perverted that experience into the Nazification of love and desire.  The silly rituals, the rules, the punishments, the rapes in the presence of witnesses seem more appropriate to a Nuremberg rally gone even more wrong, or to a Gotterdamerung scored by Joe Goebbels himself…”

My attention is also drawn to a blog in which , artist, poet, writer and animal rights activist Heidi Coon looks at Story of O through the prism of French philosopher Michel Foucault;

“the reader is immersed in a confessional of desire. A confession that, indeed, liberates the individuals simultaneously, freeing binding chains and exposing their truths. The deployment of sexual desire, the act of the mutual exchanges of power, the gift giving and receiving, are all ultimately confessed inside Roissy.”

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“The women at Roissy have consented to their silence, limiting their confessions to physical demonstrativeness…”

Heidi continues; “Whether dominance versus submission, slave versus master, or pain versus pleasure; they both need to be present. They exist in both a shocking and dramatic polar opposition. The chateau is a nondescript, private home, situated on an avenue near the park, yet it holds dark secrets and screams deep inside its belly. Rene is cruel, yet loving. Sir Stephen is brutal, yet gentle. O is willingly possessed, yet filled with a deep desire for love. For Rene, she will do anything to please him, as to please him is to know that she is loved by him. His preference was for her to submit, and her submission was solely for the sake of her lover, Rene. Reage, one might suppose, takes ‘re-gifting’ to an extreme as O’s gift of her body becomes Rene’s gift to the men at the chateau.”

Story of O seems forever on the edge of our culture and publishers were quick to remind the general reader of its existence in the wake of the hugely successful Fifty Shades of GreyFifteen years ago readers in Norway had a full awareness of the book’s existence. The Times of August 2003 announced,

The Bookseller noted that the most stolen book in Norwegian bookshops was The Story of O – to the extent that the publishers have now put a band around it saying, “NORWAY’S MOST STOLEN BOOK!“…”

Story of O even got a shout out in Frasier. There’s an episode of Frasier in which the character Roz Doyle  comes to a Halloween party as O from Story of O. Nobody gets it, – she reveals;

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“Oooooh,”

… “it’s gonna be a long night”

I am reminded Story of O also crops up in François Ozon ‘s motion picture 5×2 (2004). A yellow paperback is surreptitiously drawn from a packing box by Marion (Valeria BruniTedeschi) and leafed through briefly by herself and then by her husband, both sitting on the floor of their empty apartment. The book is, of course, Histoire d’O and forms a momentary, but unconsummated, opportunity for reconciliation. The next scene takes place in the divorce lawyer’s office.

The book scene was dropped from the final edit and remains a “deleted scene”, part of the ‘Extras’ on the DVD release.

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5×2 (also known as Cinq fois deux) is a 2004 French film directed by François Ozon, which uncovers the back story to the gradual disintegration of a middle class marriage by depicting five key moments in the relationship, but in reverse order. Ozon also directed 8 Women, The Swimming Pool, and Under the Sand.

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By its very nature Histoire d’O remains on the edge of the culture but forever worthy of study, examination and discussion.

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Lars von Trier’s “O”

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It is said Lars von Trier’s oblique contribution to the STORY OF O culture, forecasts in many ways, the “women in peril” films that he’d start making in the 1990s. Inspired by Dominique Aury’s Histoire d’O,

Menthe – la bienheureuse (1979)

tells the story of a voluntary female submission. “But,” writes Swedish commentator Ulf Kjell Gür, “it also draws on the narrative style of Marguerite Duras as if retouched by Jean Genet.”

Ulf Kjell Gür continues,The title has been translated into English as Menthe – the blissful but it would probably be more accurate (if apparently awkward) to translate it as Mint – the blessed one. The question of the addressee’s name is disputed through the dialogic narrative that unfolds as Menthe’s history is elliptically told by the speaker who attempts to entice her to travel with her to the “South”.

… Besides the ecstatically mutilated woman who reappears at the center of von Trier’s Golden Heart trilogy and in the figures of “Grace” and “She”, this film also introduces the Ascension motif which has its counterpart in the final shot of The Orchid Gardener also where the Dreyer-esque “Jew” appears to impale the film itself as if it were Vampyr.”

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“chains and whips and lustful punishment…”

Lars Von Trier was born on April 30, 1956 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Trier, who invented his “von” as a sarcastic joke in his youth, grew up in an affluent neighbourhood north of Copenhagen in a typical “cultural liberal” home. He began making films from the age of 11, experimenting with a ‘Super 8’ camera given to him as a gift.

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Menthe la bienheureuse was created within the framework of Triers’ membership to Filmgroup 16, a small filmmaker group founded in 1964 in the small town of Hvidovre, near Copenhagen, which pursued a noncommercial kino concept and produced in 16 mm format.

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Danish film professor and author Peter Schepelern has written, sexuality has always been an important element of fascination in von Trier’s work, though he does not connect to the jovial, humorous Danish tradition but rather, as in Bergman’s oeuvre, presents sexuality as a field of torment, obsession and depravity. Not only did von Trier read Nietzsche, Strindberg and Freud as a young man, he was also fascinated by Pauline Réage’s “The Story of O” and Marquis de Sade’s “Justine”, as well as films like Cavani’s “The Night Porter” and Pasolini’s “Salò”, which he later re-imported for distribution in Denmark.”

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Schepelern continues, “Von Trier’s fascination with sexuality as a dark, demonic force is quite evident in the first two films he made during his student years in the late ’70s. Privately financed, “The Orchid Gardener” and “Menthe la bienheureuse” (freely adapted from “The Story of O”) with their chains and whips and lustful punishment clearly anticipate both “Antichrist” and “Nymphomaniac”.”

Menthe is a fascinating short film. It’s sexual frankness is perhaps curtailed by what became the myth of Scandinavia being the haven of pornography.  Peter Schepelern explains; “Danish culture and society in the years when von Trier grew up were marked by a political

decision that could be seen as a sensational triumph for cultural liberalism, though it was mainly the product of a right-wing government. Denmark was the first country in the world to abolish laws against pornography – text in 1967 and images in 1969. Moreover, in 1969, Denmark was the first country to abolish film censorship for the grownup population (in 1997 all film censorship was abolished)…

Screenshot (431)…In Denmark, the legalization of pornography was, perhaps somewhat naively, seen as a victory for freedom of expression – in line with the new spirit of liberation that washed over the Western world in the 1960s. This new freedom, however, did not result in an explosion of pornography in Danish films.”

In its 31 minutes Menthe briefly and freely applies motifs and imagery from Histoire d’O in a style which leaves the viewer wondering what von Trier might do with the material if he chose to return to the chateau, so to speak, today.

Not only is the grand house situated in Roissy represented but also its gardener raking leaves, as observed by ‘O’ from her ‘cell’. This is one of many splendid moments in the original novel which one might wish to see explored fully on the silver screen:

“O watched the slow birth of pale dawn… It was broad daylight by now, and O had not moved for a long time. A gardener appeared on the path, pushing a wheelbarrow. The iron wheel could be heard squeaking over the gravel. If he had come over to rake the leaves that had fallen in among the asters, the window was so tall and the room so small and bright that he would have seen O chained and naked and the marks of the riding crop on her thighs.”

“banishment of certainty…”

The rings “O wore at her belly”, the brand bearing Sir Stephen’s initials, and the owl mask from the novel’s closing chapter all appear briefly in von Trier’s Menthe, set against other unconnected images including “exotic” landscape and an image of emaciated African children. Images, images and sounds, making connections which, Dr Angelos Koutsourakis in his Politics as form in Lars von Trier: a post-Brechtian reading points out, “refuse any sense of dramatic linearity.”

Koutsourakis talks of a combination of “austerity with spectacular fragments”, a “banishment of certainty” and “a plethora of interconnections between desire, power and domination”. The visuals in front of us becoming analytical and thus producing a sense of “critical distance and detachment and authorial uncertainty” is something Koutsourakis maintains, “that characterizes the whole corpus” of von Trier’s filmography.

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Von Trier referred to the need to make films which go beyond the authority of the text and do not follow the classical psychological formula in which the actions justify the characters and vice versa. In his own words, “the story line is the pretext of the film but the other elements don’t have to point in the same direction.”

Not surprisingly von Trier’s oblique trajectory finds the inspiration for Manderlay (2005) in the introduction to the novel Story of O, Happiness in Slavery. Trier; “The French writer Jean Paulhan tells of the former slaves on the Caribbean island of Barbados who ask their former master to take them on as slaves again. When the man refuses, he and his family are massacred.”

At the close of the 1980s von Trier had, by all accounts, serious plans for adapting two erotic classics for the big screen: Story of O and de Sade’s Justine.
Swedish-Danish film critic and author/editor of books on Lars von Trier, Jan Lumholdt asked the obvious question, “What happened?”

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“Well,” replied von Trier, “I had some contact with the son of “Pauline Reage” – who by the way amazed me in that she was actually a woman, I always thought that the novel had been written by a man – and I told him I was interested in the rights. But when he found out who I was, he said, “Never!”. He had seen The Element of Crime and he absolutely hated that film. And then I gave it up altogether.”

Will von Trier return to “O”? Who knows. However, Jan Lumholdt informs me ” I do my best and ask him every time we meet. I will keep asking him. We’re still young. It will happen. Will, will, will.”

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Cast :
Inger Hvidtfeldt The Woman
Annette Linnet Menthe
Carl-Henrik Trier The Gardener
Lars von Trier The Driver
Jenni Dick The Old Lady
Brigitte Pelissier Voice of The Woman (voice)

 

From RUSSIA with Love

Moscow based artist Valeria Kemnits has permitted me to reproduce her rather lovely illustrations to Story of O.
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They have an unmistakably fairy tale style in keeping with how Pauline Réage (Dominique Aury, – born Anne Desclos) described her novel Histoire d’O:
“Story of O is a fairy tale for another world, a world where some part of me lived for a long time, a world that no longer exists except between the covers of a book.”
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Valeria, a graduate of Moscow Folk Arts Higher School and Stroganov Moscow State University of Industrial And Applied Arts, tells me; “I chose this book for my diploma work because it’s kind of fairy tale, – a little bit. Unfortunately they were not published. That’s my big dream…”istoriya_O.indd

“I chose this book for my diploma work because it’s kind of fairy tale…”

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Since beginning her career in the late 1990s Valeria has exhibited widely. Soon after graduating in 2004 she exhibited in Sweden with over thirty works sold by auction, at the JFC cultural center in Stockholm. Exhibitions followed in Moscow (including «Hansa: Dream of time» at the Moscow House of Nationality) and in Sorrento, Italy.
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In recent times Valeria has turned her attention to interpreting the music of Metallica about which she maintains;13043401_994350610641192_7344386206319378298_n (2)
“Everything is there: suffering and hope, pain and happiness, love and hate, life and death, anger and serenity…”

All images © Valeria Kemnits

‘O’ RARE & MUCH SOUGHT-AFTER

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Histoire d’O by Pauline Réage with a foreword by Jean Paulhan, was initially published in an edition of 600 copies by Jean-Jacques Pauvert and appeared in Paris in June 1954. Some copies – nobody seems to know how many – carried a small engraving by German artist Hans Bellmer on the title page. Happy is the man who can afford to add the Bellmer-embellished edition to his library. One re-bound copy made available by the Christie’s auction house (in November 2014) fell to the hammer at UK£2,125.00 (US$3,326)

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This is what Christie’s had to say about the first edition of Story of O:

FIRST EDITION OF THE MOST
INFLUENTIAL EROTIC TEXT OF THE 20TH CENTURY. One of only 600 copies, this one with the fine Bellmer etching found in less than half of the edition. Desclos began Histoire d’O as a private lover letter to Jean Paulhan, a towering literary figure, in part to
keep the attention of her lover, in part responding to his quip that women were incapable of writing erotica. Proven wrong, Paulhan urged her to publish, and took the manuscript to Pauvert who, after an overnight reading, exclaimed ‘it’s marvelous, it’ll spark a revolution’. Histoire d’O became an unqualified commercial success. The identity of its author caused intense speculation, many doubting that it could be the work of a woman, let alone the demure h-1200-reage_pauline_histoire-do_1954_edition-originale_tirage-de-tete_5_48276-3and bookish Desclos, who denied authorship for four decades. In February 1955 Histoire d’O won the literature prize ‘Prix des Deux Magots’, which did not stop French authorities from bringing obscenity charges against the publisher. These were dropped, but a publicity ban was imposed for a number of years. Number 471 of 480 on vergé paper. Cf. Pia Enfer, 634.

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Currently a Swiss bookdealer has a copy for sale featuring the Bellmer vignette (and signed in a dedication by Jean Paulhan) priced at US$ 6,735.28 (plus shipping), and maintains the etching “would have adorned only 200 [copies] of the 480 announced”. Another bookdealer, this time in France, proffers, “the engraving of Hans Bellmer, theoretically reserved to the 20 first copies on Arches paper.”

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Hans Bellmer (13 March 1902 – 24 February 1975) was a German artist, best known for the life-sized pubescent female dolls he produced in the mid-1930s. He was born in the city of Kattowitz, then part of the German Empire (now Katowice, Poland). After WW2, Bellmer lived the rest of his life in Paris. He gave up doll-making and spent the following decades creating erotic drawings, etchings, sexually explicit photographs, and paintings. The Ubu Gallery in New York rightly maintained;

Although most acclaimed for the life-sized
adolescent female dolls he produced and 1photographed, Bellmer was a master draftsman formally trained in engineering, design and perspective. His drawings evince exceptional quality of line and he is a worthy successor to the northern European classicists, such as Albrecht Dürer and Matthias Grünewald, whose “Isenheim Altarpiece” exerted such a profound impact on his creative psyche. He applied the precision of the Old Masters to his own distinctive figurative style of drawing marked by eros, duality, metamorphosis and abstraction. Bellmer succeeded in rendering a sexually-laden atmosphere that realized a personal language of desire which, in his own words, “made it possible to recreate physically the dizzying heights of passion and to do so to the extent of creating new desires.”

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Bellmer lent his artistry to illustrate other works of literature. It was ‘O’ publisher Jean-Jacques Pauvert who commissioned frontispieces for Histoire d’O and for Louis Aragon’s Le Con d’Irènehaving given Bellmer a little exhibition in Paris in 1952. Throughout this final period of his career Bellmer concentrated on engraving, leaving little time for painting. Amongst other works, he illustrated L’Anglais décrit dans le château fermé by André Pieyre de Mandiargues, Madame Edwarda by Georges Bataille, and texts by de Sade. Bellmer explained;

“To transfer my drawings on to copper and to print them on to a heavy Rives paper is the unique means of making good the enchantment, if I may so describe it, of my pencil lines.”

De Mandiargues wrote in his study of Bellmer’s engraved work:

That the engraving, rather than the canvas or the sheet of paper under the brush, pen or crayon should be the ideal support for this grave eroticism from which is banished all facility, all slightness, all frivolity, is not at all astonishing. A biting and burning comprehension of the flesh could not be better served than by the stopped plate, the acid and the small, cruel tools used by the engraver. (Bellmer, OEuvre Gravé pub. 1976)

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