It's more than three weeks now that I hardly move from Leiden, and, first time in many years, I close the light before falling asleep.
At a given moment, I even started to think Poland was not as bad as I believed, after all. It was quiet for a week or two, and the new laws concerning tribunals had been unexpectedly revoked. I started to think that, after all, all the discussion about depenalisation (sic!) of the domestic violence and all the debate about the marital rape might be just a paroxysm of modernisation penetrating, better late than never, intimate realities of the Poles. I heard about priests preaching in the churches that women should humbly accept being beaten, yet I started to think that was perhaps their last and most desperate attempt at keeping things under control when the reality, irrevocably, drifted away from them. I started to think that, perhaps, I could have done with just another blister of Tranxene, rather than one way ticket to the Zomia. That one day I might return, resume my work at a university in Poland.
And then they killed the president of Gdansk, with a knife, on stage, as if in a kind of barbarian sacrifice. And then I started to say dank u wel instead of thank you, because suddenly it bored through to my awareness that I'm here to stay.
And now I'm crawling laboriously from Ibn Masarra to Ibn Arabi, and thinking deeply about what exactly I want to do about them, and say, and what is my project really about. I have worries about my work, how can I bring it up to remarkable quality, how can I make myself truly visible. How can I merge with this reality without disappearing. By any means, it is not a reckless and relaxed existence, but on the other hand, not the kind of worries to make me keep the light on all night.
Playing with ideas, as I learned to do in Warsaw, is as far behind as priests preaching in churches in defence of the domestic violence. Here, in the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, even Christianity is something different. Most importantly, in the university library, knowledge is something different. In Warsaw, we didn't have knowledge; we did not even pretended to it. We were supposed to have opinions. My older colleague was even quite positive about it. Proud of his opinions. Proud of making the students have opinions.
But what does it do to me now? As little as priests preaching domestic violence in churches.
I can only congratulate myself on my choices. Like keeping away from any Polish males for more than a quarter of a century. Like paying myself a one way ticket to the Zomia. Like choosing knowledge against opinions. Or ideas to play with.
I should add any comment today, as it is a new, secular tradition to celebrate, on solstice, the Global Orgasm for Peace.
I propose to add something, a quarter of an hour of solidarity with women who experience no orgasms. Those to whom lies have been persistently told about their womanhood. Those to whom no sexual rights have been granted. Those who grant no sexual rights to themselves.
Seule une repue, qui s'était payé son étalon comme son dernier sac Prada et le tenait fermement par la bride, pouvait dégoiser pareilles sornettes. [...] « La polygamie n'est pas si terrible que ça ! » C'était la pire insulte jamais faite aux martyres de cette pratique d'un autre age.
A Senegalese writer Fatou Diome, Celles qui attendent (2013)
I'm in Amsterdam, on heavy duty during the coming two weeks, but right now I've resolved to enjoy my Friday night as a European woman. In an Irish pub in the immediate vicinity of the Red Light district.
The idea could not possibly be more unerotical, not to say asexual one. When I entered the premises about 11 pm, I found the pub full of desperately looking people, including many haunting (rather than actually hunting) females. Typically English kind of females, some of those who some years ago used to advertise "free hugs" on their T-shirts, and sometimes to live up to their promise. When I returned half an hour later, I could sit down quietly over my pint of Amstel, nearly alone among males. Only a few females remained, in pairs, talking between themselves. I have no idea if they actually came here to meet any of those males; clearly they had no strategy of seduction whatsoever, I didn't see any of them attempting whatsoever. Any woman could hardly do, against those men confronting each his own pint of some kind of beer or another. Those few ladies who were still there, were doing so by some sort of desperate, residual companionship, as if keeping faith to their males throughout a final ordeal.
The females were young, but many of them obese; I don't consider them as automatically discarded or unattractive for this reason, I've seen obese prostitutes doing good business in the District. But visibly there was something between them (females) and them (males). Something like a glass wall across an aquarium.
I write about all this, because it is perhaps time to become more balanced in my extreme criticism of Polish males. There was no Pole in that bar, but many of the clients actually looked like Poles; I think about their general expression that only the French term abruti can render. Even if they seemed to me bigger, heavier than a majority of men in my old country. Heavily built and overgrown with fat at the same time.
I've had many theories about what happened with males in diverse countries; one of those theories, that I shared with Ewa Thompson, was about devastating effects of past recruitment to colonial armies. In Poland as well as Morocco. But the English, apparently coming to Amsterdam for the sake of slightly cheaper beer, were the colonisers, not the colonised, all along their history. Isn't it so?
As I looked at them (none of them returned my glance as any God-fearing Muslim guy would do), a new theory got conceived in my brain. What if it is all about calories?
I've had it clearer in my mind how obesity is destructive of female sexuality; I even saw it somewhere in scientific materials, explaining how the fat accumulating around the clitoris hinders its proper functioning. But perhaps I've never cared to muse on the effects of caloric excess on the male body.
We might be too well fed in Europe to have an intimate life to speak of. In my previous post on religion, it didn't occur to me to comment on the possible importance of fasting as a factor in those equations. But in fact I've always resented the cumulative difficulty of abstaining simultaneously of food and of any intimate activities...
Nous autres les Européennes, repues, nous nous payons des étalons en Afrique comme des sacs Prada. This is what the Senegalese writer criticises. But we are also celles qui attendent. Desperate to get love at any price, unconditionally, even with a male to share, to hire, anywhere in the world that we manage to find it. And it is curious to observe that we do find our stallions in those parts of the world where people still fast, by necessity or by choice. Sex is still a luxury, tel un sac Prada. Why, even in this City of Men, there is not enough for everyone? Clearly, there are crowds of men, none of them fitting our purpose. None of them hungry.
And at the very bottom of all these musings, what I discover is once again the necessity of frontiers, of narrow boundaries. The interdependence of eroticism and ἄσκησις. Of hunger and fulfilment. Of the luxurious, elitist aspect of all this. Perhaps otherwise the game wouldn't even been so attractive to play.
I'm coming to this wisdom so late; that's a pity. But even at my 46 years of age, I am increasingly determined not to let it go, to stick to this lifestyle of ἄσκησις, and narrow boundaries, and fulfilment.
Still lost in my desert. But I slowly start to see a way in front of me, how can I move beyond this point. What do I want to achieve, now, when the old objectives have already been achieved and are no more.
So obvious that it is, must be the moment of asking myself what I do not regret, what really does matter for me. What has not been enough in my life. It becomes more and more clear that I do not regret adventure, I don't have it enough in my life. What I still want is dynamism, richness of new and exciting things.
And definitely, there is this passage from part-per-cent into the domain of part-per-thousand. It is very clear to me that I managed to get things that few women can enjoy, or few people in general. But there is still a way beyond the normalcy of my success. At least partially determined by the mediocrity of my origin. I'm still very much attached, for example, to my tiny flat in Kraków. I still find it impossible to let it go. Yet just like my Polish professorship, it is something very normal. A great achievement for a lowly, hard working girl, fighting against her family and social context just to keep her head above the water. Progressively, I get ready to let go the memory of my origins.
Hopefully, on 28th December I will be back in Leiden, ready to put my academic work at a completely new level. Letting go everything I've done or achieved till now. The cause of my hesitation and confusion is perhaps the necessity of finding a balance between continuity and breakthrough.
And yes, there is a dream of a great love story, no matter how good my marriage might become. That is another unsolvable conundrum. Marriage, especially this religious concept of marriage to which I'm so strongly attached, is a book to be read slowly, chapter by chapter. It does surprise me in every new episode. But be that as it may, reading slow books is a quiet kind of pleasure, falling apart from my love of adventure, greatness, things that are novel and exciting.
I have had more than my just share in everything, including the bodily delights. Great love stories are not a normal part of life, for anybody; and even in this aspect, I cannot complain, I had it bigger and bolder than most women. Even in my essentially solitary life, I suppose I've had more orgasms than most women; and suffered less. Overall, I have been on better terms with my body. With the benefit of tranquillity, independence, the comfort of not having to put up with pleasing anyone.
I used to live my life in the upper one or two or three percents, in every aspect. But there is the question of passing into the domain of parts-per-thousand. Of exceptional destinies.
I suppose it is a great taboo to comment on the relationship between eroticism and religion. Yet obviously there is a relationship, and not only at the archaic level of some sort of primordial lingam that must have existed at the beginning of everything. There is frankincense, in my opinion one of the most powerful boosters that exist, in every church. And that is not to mention the fact that I usually avoid the temples of my own religion as places of temptation that I find truly difficult to bear.
There is a power of libido in direct proportion to the intensity of religious commitment, at least in a sort of men. And I'm not sure what I should do about this, treat it as a proof of an enormous hypocrisy? Or rather as something, at least to a degree, natural, understandable, following a hidden, yet consistent logic?
In my old country, there exists, I believe, a class of women that find Catholic priests highly attractive. The problem appeared, at least as a background, in Kler, the movie that made a great scandal lately. But it is a very old question, treated in extenso in many a naturalist novel in any of the major western literatures. The Portuguese O Crime do Padre Amaro is, to my knowledge, among the best bibles of church eroticism.
It's not exactly the Catholic priests that I personally find attractive, but it results not less disturbing. It happened to me once, in Leiden, to positively run away, I mean gather my stuff in panic and fly as quickly as I could. I was reading Dan Brown's latest novel, just to exercise my Dutch, when suddenly a guy approached me and asked if I had a religion. I did not dare as much as lift up my eyes unto him, it was an instinctive reaction, as if I really expected to see a naked penis in full erection in front of me, and to be raped right there, on the little square in front of the McDonald in the centre of Leiden. I run away, run away, run away, not even knowing how this guy actually looked like or what was exactly the thing that startled me so much in him.
On other occasions, I do know it was something about their smell, since in such cases my instinct alerts me instantly to avoid eye contact. No serious incidents thereupon, but it is nonetheless curious to admit that there exists a kind of men that can put me out of my wits with nothing but their sheer presence. I happen to meet them with a certain frequency, since we roam the same lonely and isolated spots, such as narrow passages between bookshelves containing a specific kind of religious writings.
What I've said may just seem as a kind of residual self-defence strategy, inherited from generations of women who reacted like this throughout both prehistory and historical times, when any confrontation with the power of libido might signify a definite risk of death, injury or serious trouble. But it is clear that none of those encounters I'm thinking about implied objectively any menace of sexual violence. By the way, my personal strategies of defence against such a menace go in a completely opposite direction: stern look, demonstration of contempt and certainly no hint of being alarmed or puzzled in any way whatsoever! Also, it is my inner persuasion that sexually induced violence have nothing to do with the power of libido, rather in the contrary; men who may actually attack you with a hammer are those who know they are absolute zero in those things.
Certainly, I am very much afraid of men belonging to the class I'm speaking about; there is no way of denying it. But it is of their tremendous efficacy in obtaining my consent that I am actually afraid. And what I'm really puzzled about is to know if this instinct of slipping away in confusion, with my eyes riveted to the ground, is not by any chance a sort of residual neolithic strategy of seduction. Seduction that I deny ever to have happened.
It's perhaps time to get a full awareness of such things. I usually carry a pack of condoms in my bag, and it is through awareness this prophylactic is supposed to work against temptation.
And that was merely about a certain class of men. What about a certain class of women? Is there such a thing as sexually induced interest in religion? That is to put it quite bluntly. And I suppose it is not a great novelty to give a positive answer to this question. Various sects and denominations are known to exploit such impulses more or less overtly, usually without acknowledging them. But perhaps what I do care to know is the religiously authentic value of those ecstasies and arousals, their value as something that I would like to see more clearly for my private use. Do they possess a godly or ungodly quality in themselves, or are they valid or invalid only through lawful or unlawful deeds to which they actually lead? Also, apparently, I've suggested that men grow libidinous through their faith, while women grow religious through their libido. Is it just a lapsus generated by the rhetorical flow of my discourse, or is there any deeper thought in this? Or these are simply two sides of the same coin? A sort of feedback loop that leads to escalating levels in both fields of experience?
That's a lot of theological musings. Be that as it may, at each turn, the connection between eroticism and religion in itself results even more difficult and disturbing. In New Age terms, it would be easy to say that it is all about experiencing the sacred. But in reality nothing of this is actually easy.
That's the real crisis. I've got a professorial title in my old country, the best marriage the desert can give, and a sort of second youth by God's personal favour to enjoy it. How can I move beyond this point?
Certainly, there is greater social prominence to which I might aspire, there is more money I might care to have, things like that. Men more handsome and more intelligent with whom I might like to be. But I feel all that would be to repeat, perhaps as a kind of premium version, something that is already with me.
Of course I will move beyond this point when my time comes. I will resume my scholarship, write something again, and in this I still have a long way to go. My marriage grows better every day already. And then there might be new things to come.
I'm making a scrap book like a young English lady in her grand tour (oh, those childish strategies that help us to negotiate life transitions!). I chose two pictures from a pocket edition of John William's anthology of erotical paintings and photographs; they are the best to characterise me and the type of relationship I dream about. One is Gustave Moreau's Galatea, featuring the contemplative glance of the cyclops, admiring the radiant and luminous nymph consubstantial with the luxuriant vegetation surrounding her. The other is Alma-Tadema's scene in which Antonius, represented as yet another dark, wild and hairy Mediterranean man, bends forward as if he had just been hit right in his stomach, glancing in awe into Cleopatra's boat crossing the Nile.
Dark, wild and hairy is that I want them. And to be myself the luxuriant queen shining bright, clothed in heavy blossom and leopard skins. Everything is in these two pictures, my longing for purity and authenticity of a primitive race, that is at the same time something so deeply cultured, something clothed in abundant draperies of civilisation centuries in the making and a lifetime in being studied. That's me, and at the same time something I never accepted. I denied all knowledge of this image of myself.
I cheated myself into believing that I had anything in common with the submissive and downtrodden womanhoods of Poland or any other place, real or virtual. With a salty tomato soup coming as a bonus!
Everything has been wrong between me and my desert. Something has been deeply falsified. While firstly, the desert neither requires nor accepts submissive women.
I wrote in one of my previous posts that I feel inexpert with western guys and would never feel at ease with them. I maintain it. I totally lost any interest in them that might have remained. But it is in my own desert that now I am lost.
I see a very specific work in front of me: a work on finding my own, personal style. Not in clothes, of course; for that my dark red accessories will do. In eroticism. And this is much more complicated matter.
Nearly all the global porn, as extensive as the phenomenon might be (some people say it is responsible for up to 98% of the movement in the world wide web), is a monotonous music played on just two strings: dominance and submission. As if it was a sad Sadian heritage spreading like a giant mantle in many shades of grey over the mankind. And Sade is not even a truly erotical author! 120 days of Sodom and such books are about the relation between order and evil, not about bodily delights in any proper sense.
Eroticism as I understand it is just a tiny margin in culture, any culture. A tiny minority of people are truly attached to it, while the vast majority just live their lives playing on any of those two strings; rarely on both. The second one of the mentioned is more familiar to me, perhaps because I need no erotic role play to be dominant in relation to any male. But all this is as dull as the regimen of Sodom. Strangely, so many people seem stick to it quite lovingly. Perhaps they are trying to control the uncontrollable, make order in the most disorderly sphere of human experience. Oh, the delights of regimen, any regimen! I suppose even the delights of Islamic eroticism are for many people just this, yet another regimen, more pleasurable as it appears to be stricter.
I search for a style, an expression, many more strings on which to play. A style of chaos, of freedom, of the unpredictable. Of the abyss from where most people seem so keen to run away, even if they would never admit it might be so. Is it really like this that true delight is like a void that requires us to jump, a ground removed from under our feet? Is this why we stick so desperately to habits, to whatever seems known and clear, even to physical pain? Just because pain is clear, known, down-to-earth; it won't take us far. The dullness of sex without orgasm won't take us far. While these brief four seconds might throw us into the unknown. Is it like this? Is it that we live most of our lives overwhelmed and driven by sexual fears instead of desires, temptations? The constant fear of going too far makes us constantly return to a routine, stick to a regimen.
The abysmal aspect of the experience of orgasm may be relatively easy to grasp physiologically, even if this simplicity may be misleading. It is similar to the sensation of stepping on the limit of fainting, as if suddenly the blood was either running into the brain or out of it. I often had the idea that I might have any kind of stroke. A worry which, I suppose, is medically quite unjustified (am I wrong?). But it is instinctive to move back from that point. Similarly, I've never had much enthusiasm for the idea of multiple orgasms, another myth of a certain sexual feminism, just a few decades old. I just couldn't persuade myself into trying it. There is something so powerful in the experience of orgasm (the first of several that might come?) that says: Enough.
Well, I cared to check in the Internet. In fact, I found the information about the risk of brain haemorrhages and stroke associated with sex, and more precisely with orgasm; it is also said that they correspond to some 15% of all strokes, which is, I suppose, something to think about. "Bleeding into the brain after orgasm is known to happen", a doctor says, although it is immediately explained that some underlying condition, such as high blood pressure, must exist for this to happen. I've also learned there is something called coital cephalgia, or "thunder clap" headache; I believe to have experienced it sometimes in my thirties, but never knew it had both medical and popular name, much less that there might have been a link between it and any sort of serious health risk; this is to say how little do we know.
For the remaining risks associated with sex, beyond the usual question of sexually transmitted diseases and a bruised cervix, I also found the eventuality of broken ribs, although without any indication of the precise circumstances in which it may happen. I suppose that, with the kind of sex-in-the-desert lifestyle of mine, I might also be exposed to this... Which is a joke of course, but the question of stroke made me quite alert, even if they say women who had it would probably have it any more prosaic way, while riding a bike, for instance.
But this post was to be about style, not about sex risks and injuries. The two strings aforementioned are generated by a single concept: power relations. What are the other strings to play on? I suppose the question of erotical style is diffused over longer periods of relationship, in slow evolution, not so easy to associate with a single gesture, an attitude, or what in older times used to be called a fetish. I suppose it is a way of being based on a kind of core value, an abstraction, such as might be freedom in my case, the use of freedom as a central motif on which to play. Kind of keyword to many things, giving them a specific coloration.
Speaking in terms of cultural history, I suppose certain colours are codified, even if they are rarely practised today, fallen in disuse. Such is for example the opus in blue, built on solitude and longing. Barthes made his alphabet (Fragments d'un discours amoureux) largely out of this. There is all this tradition of erotical melancholy, of amor hereos.
But what I need is a triumphal mood, a coloration of strong positive feelings. Something befitting my invincible womanhood.
In a month, I've lost over 6 kg. Every day I notice some positive change in my physiological condition, like the disappearance of a certain hyperesthesia that accompanied me since I was a teenager. Mentally, as if in a sort if inverted dysmorphic disorder, I appear to myself more attractive than is probably the case. I suppose this kind of mild irrealism is characteristic at least to a certain type of mature women, just as excessive criticism toward one's looks is characteristic for young women. I've always had a great love for myself, but now it is something different; paradoxically, because this idealisation of my own person comes strangely associated with the readiness of finding constantly new problems to solve, new corrections to make; I work on myself as if I were my own masterpiece. Just a perfect client for all the cosmetologist industry. Yet another obsession is my sudden need of acquiring and wearing red clothes and accessories; I still have many from the first years of my marriage, I always loved dark red things; but yesterday I just had to buy a beautiful, and proportionally expensive, cherry colour skirt.
Still uncertain, nonetheless, what to do with my marriage, that in the meanwhile acquires rare shades of passion, harmony, devotion, mutual interest, unhindered communication. I'm surprised to see how much of its complexity escaped me over the last years. It is indeed a beautiful garden that pains me to abandon, especially now, when it is again in its full blossom and splendour. I would have a great deal of good and curious things to say about it, but these are of course aspects I'm obliged to keep secret.
The outer world of men seems less attractive in comparison, and the conclusions I draw speak about the necessity of caution and restraint. Somehow I find my own balance of principles and temptations, perhaps also more easily and with a greater efficacy than in any earlier period of my life. Yet I have an instinctive feeling that some great good will come to me from that side as well, not knowing how or when, except that it will come rather through restraint, selectivity and virtue, than otherwise.
And all this vaguely moralising wisdom would be very boring of course, if it didn't came from a woman navigating, erotically speaking, towards very deep waters indeed.
I am in love. He is in love. We are in love. And the kind of love that has never happened before, could not have happened before.
Did he manage to reconquer me surreptitiously, as I was afraid? Did I somehow reconquered him myself? Or perhaps the marriage rearranged itself, like a sort of self-organising entity, reemerged out of chaos like a mathematical attractor? Spontaneously returned to its own optimum? Or rather, encountered a new optimum at a new energetic level?
I don't know what is the correct language to describe the phenomenon. Also, the coming weeks and months will show what will actually happen with it, what kind of trajectory it will assume. Be that as it may, all this is not only extremely exciting, but also enriching to live through. Giving me more and more intense sensation of transforming into a different person, of passing through such a change as I've never experienced before. To be in love in a different way, as it has never happened before, is only one of aspects.
I always imagined the 45+ life as a kind of flat line, when everything that was to happen already happened, the white-haired couple smile tenderly staring to the sea, eventually, his penis pending like a locket full of memories, her vagina like a fine, brittle roll of rose parchment. Perhaps I've just confused the decades, 45+ is not exactly 65+ or 75+. I thought it is all the same. No one told me it is not. There was no fairy tale about this.
What culture is for, if it doesn't tell us the best fairy tales, if it doesn't prepare us for the most beautiful transitions in our life? Or am I just the first of the human kind to face it?
Might it possibly be a real novelty? An option that, in terms of the cultural history of the humanity, appeared just now, with longer life, better health, a body undamaged by pregnancies and childbirths, long use of hormonal contraceptives? Brain shaped by intense intellectual activity, thinking and feeling in more than one culture, polyglot expression, frequent travels, living in a global horizon? Symbolic status that enables me to require for my pleasure what my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother would not dare, or even be able, to dream about?
Even if I compare myself with other women of my generation, it is easy to see that my habits of using of my liberty are quite unique. On this blog, I have recently seen my erotic history as a total disaster, and myself as one of the late - but unfortunately not last - victims of my country, of a culture that had lied to me about my womanhood along all my life. Perhaps this vision is not entirely correct. There has been me in it, a crucial factor, and my capacity to work through my failure, the cultural limitations imposed upon me, my personal errors and blunders.
And here I am, with what I well deserved, with my new, more passionate love, and my new, hypersensitive body, and my new, bolder and braver taste for life, and my maturity to reach for more, in a sort of final Faustian transgression.
Ist nur ein Gleichnis;
Hier wird's Ereignis;
Hier ist's getan;
Zieht uns hinan.