Suffice to say, we'll avoid any illustrative Google Image Searches this week, for fear of casting this tasteful group blog down into the hellfires of the Not Safe for Work.
We're back, with a bang (har!), to Cyprian and the Question of Desire. I must confess I find Cyprian's mind at this point to be astonishingly difficult to wrap my own brain around. As a lay student (if not practitioner, in my own small way) of Buddhism, I have done a fair amount of thinking about the abnegation of desire. But as I haven't got a sadomasochistic boner -- bone! bone!
Jesus, did anyone hear that? -- in my body, I have only ever thought in the shallowest way about masochistic submission as an expression of it.
And yet, we are forced to here: "Most who met [Cyprian] found it difficult to to reconcile his appetite for sexual abasement -- its specific carnality -- with what had to be termed a religious surrender of the self." This recalls a question I asked a few weeks ago: Is not the desire to end desire itself a desire?
Yashmeen, it seems, is the first to recognize this dissonance in Cyprian's mind, and to -- what's the word? Nurture? Exploit? Consume?
-- it, inhabiting, as everyone is, " a world every day more stultified, which expected salvation in codes and governments, ever more willing to settle for suburban narratives and diminished payoffs" -- she sees Cyprian's "miraculous resurrection" (hmmm...)
as an opportunity for transcendence.
Yin and Yang get all twisted up here, which, come to think of it, is perhaps the way we should always think of them. Yashmeen, hitherto always the pursued in relation to men, and the pursuer with women, finds that Cyprian responds to a seduction approach more appropriate to commanding the "desires of London shopgirls and haughty Girtonian alike." But with Cyps, unlike with the women Yashmeeen's pursued, "the gentle make-believe of princesses and maidservants [i.e., power relationships] was deepened, extended into realms of real power, real pain."
Do you see how the Personal becomes the Political here? Dominance and submission sex-games as expression, as mirroring, of the exercise of economic power? I can never see S&M at work without also thinking of czars and kulaks, of overseers in the cotton field, which, frankly, gives me a bit of a soft-off. The sadomasochistic enthusiast will no doubt answer me that, unlike the economic world, the exchange of power in S&M is voluntary,
and that there are power relationships at work in even the most mundane missionary-position boffage. (Yes, but there's also a question of degree, nicht wahr?)
This can of worms is worth opening at least briefly, justified by this:
It was more than the usual history of flogging one expected from British schoolboys of all ages. It was almost an indifference to self, in which desire was directed at passing beyond the conditions of the self -- at first she thought, as other women on the face of it might, well then it's only self-hatred isn't it, perhaps a class thing -- but no, that wasn't it. Cyprian took altogether too much pleasure in what she obliged him to do. "'Hate'? no -- I don't know what this is," he protested, peering in dismay at his naked form in the mirror, "except that it's yours...."
I ask again: Is not the desire to end desire itself a desire?
Later: "It was going on behind every other window one could see, common as the stars in the sky, the reversals of power, wives over husbands, pupils over masters, wogs over whites, the old expected order of things all on its head, a revolution in the terms of desire, and yet, at Yashmeen's feet, that seemed only the outskirts -- the obvious or sacramental form of the thing." Yashmeen seems to find some sort of mission to help Cyprian find oblivion and total self-abnegation -- but her self-justification is far from thought through: "Rules of proper conduct are for the dying, not for us." Famous last words...
The Spongiatosta family is throwing a "secret counter-Carnevale known as Carnesalve." (My desktop translator widget gives "meat" and "blank" for "carne" and "salve" respectively -- not very helpful....) Unlike the public Carnevale, held before Lent in anticipation of fasting, Carnesalve is "not a farewell but an enthusiastic welcome to flesh in all its promise. As object of desire, as food, as temple, as gateway to conditions beyond immediate knowledge."
My kinda party.OK now, Jingo. Here's a challenge for you:
Try, just try,
to summarize the action in the next scene without resorting to the sort of language to be found at SubmissiveCreampieTrannySlutsAndTheBi-BoysWhoLoveThem.com (not that innocent li'l me would ever visit such a louche
Cyprian, bedecked in his finest drag, and wearing a wig made from Yashmeen's own hair, catches Reef's eye at the Carnesalve. Reef, surprising no readers by this point -- this is the guy who solicited a blowjob from Yashmeen's dog; he'd fuck an alligator if somebody'd drain the pool (but see below! See below!)
-- responds with a positive display of appreciation. Yashmeen, who has forbidden Cyprian to make any moves on her het-fella without express permission, escorts her boys/girls/somewhere-in-betweens to a private space for some "punishment." She demands that Cyprian retain the effluent emission from(no, no! Too Latinate!)
She forces Cyprian to keep Reef's load in(Jesus! What are you, a hack pr0n writer?)
Ardently looking on, waves of passion crashing over her as she watches her woman-man give the ultimate pleasure to her man-man, Yashmeen demands coquettishly that Cyprian retain Reef's bounteous love-reward(Fuckin' hell! Harlequin Romances, now!)
All right. Reef goes Number Three in Cyprian's yum-yum, which he then proceeds to dribble into Yashmeen's hoo-hoo while Reef puts his weenie in his Naughty Place. Whew!Happy?
I know I am.
Besides the obvious trouser-tightening bits, the thing to observe here is that Cyprian is now overtly not only the "go-between" connecting Yash and Reef, but he's also taken both their roles, both the recipient and the deliverer of Reef's baby-batter. He has, in effect, become both of them.MOVING ON...
(Biomechanics being one thing but intimacy quite another...)And now we are three.
Horndog Reef and Cyprian begin to "see" each other without Yashmeen's knowledge. Their pillow-talk is fascinating -- universes colliding, America and Europe. Reef, not the most percipient or empathic of men, wonders how "anybody can let somebody do that to him [i.e., bottom]," rather missing the point that the "doing to" him had been welcomed by Cyprian, and wasn't coerced or forced. "I mean, don't it hurt?" "It hurts, and it doesn't hurt," which I imagine is a pretty fair description, given the number of times it's done every day. "Japanese talk."
(Yes, more of that Japanese talk. Cue mention of "desire" in three...two...one...)
Reef cites honor, which leads to Cyprian's observation (if "disingenuous"), "Perhaps I've only failed to see a connection between honor and desire (ding! ding! ding!),
Reef." The relationship between honor and desire is of course more complicated for Cyprian, as his dismissal of honor as a personal value has been useful to him in the professional field. "Honor," as Reef sees it, equates to the refusal to be submissive to any person or thing, while for Cyprian it's an "outmoded sexual protocol." We get the searing insight that there are people who confuse Cyprian's submissiveness with sympathy, "especially those with the curious belief that sodomites, having few troubles of their own, could never become bored listening to the difficulties of others."
The passage that follows is all-revealing about Reef, and a damned sad passage too. He tells Cyprian of his encounters with closeted cowboys on trains, young men who'd left their wives ostensibly to look for work in the West but in reality to just get the hell away from the hellish secret lives they'd allowed themselves to get sucked into, of children that they love deeply and wives they may love but don't lust for. Then we're suddenly getting Reef counting himself among them, and the realization hits: Reef's closeted! And has been for the whole book!
Go back and check 218:13-18, just after Stray's had her baby and they've buried Webb. "Reef might not be able to pull off successfully the guise of a respectable wife-and-kids working stiff the way Webb had. Meant he'd either have to level with Stray
or pretend to be up to his old rounder ways so she'd think when he disappeared for days at a time
that it was ramblin and gamblin and nothing serious."
This explains so much!
The sexual rapacity, the coolness to women even while he's laying them and his ease in leaving them, the idiot logic that leads him to solicit a blow-job from a poodle, the sudden, surprising eagerness to have it off with Cyprian... On my next re-read, I'm going to have a much more sensitive eye to this.
Reef dreams of Webb, after "years of avoidance" (how do you avoid
dreaming about someone?). I think the mention of "being the Kieselguhr Kid in Webb's place" is a direct pointer back to p. 218; it was that issue that was disguising the real trouble in Reef's mind, and in ours -- "and now look at this that he'd come stepping into... Would Webb recognize him now, recognize his politics anymore, his compulsions?" Webb reminds Reef to "honor small victories"; when Reef points out their absence of late, Webb retorts, mysteriously, "Not talking about yours, numbskull."
The threesome take their act on the road, cleaning up in the casinos with Yashmeen's foolproof roulette system. Although they agree on the Big Issues (Anarchism, humor, and lots and lots of sex, and who can blame them, really?) they bicker (quite hilariously) over Reef's cooking. the outcome of which is a generous slathering of overcooked pasta in a Poisson distribution over Cyprian's phiz.
Wolfe Tone O'Rooney makes a brief appearance, warning darkly that "governments are about to fuck things up for everybody, make life more unlivable than Brother Bakunin ever imagined."
Once again, Cyprian has a nice, long wallow in his favorite subject: "But no more accountable was the absence
of desire -- why one would choose not to embrace
what the world judges, it often seemed unanimously, to lie clearly in one's interest." Yashmeen, her instincts as good as ever, perceives a change in Cyprian: "I feel...that somehow I am coming slowly not to matter as much to you as something else...."
Yashmeen discovers she's pregnant by Reef, and, Cyprian would like to think, with his help. I'm no gynecologist, but I'm willing to bet that the method they've been using is mighty, mighty inefficient.
Res ipsa loquitur.