Saturday, November 28, 2020

Those acrylic floods

Without agreeing to do so, we made it a thing not to call anything by its name, not to talk of cocks and vaginas and not to make love the way we had both been taught. Making love is such a stupid phrase anyway: how can you make an emotional state? And why is it never referred to as making hate or boredom or despair? And yet sometimes, especially after K had allowed me to play with some of the colours in his studio and to paint on his body, when he watched me move those red and pink shades across his skin, he sometimes looked so relieved, Dr Seligman, as if something had been restored to him that he had lost a long time ago. And I always longed for the moment when he would just take a little too much purple and smear it across my face, very slowly and never any other colour. And then he would start laughing, for it's not only that he could cry like a child, he could also laugh like one. And there was something so irresistible about the freedom he took in the face of the world. It was like he couldn't remember the last time something had actually mattered to him, like he would paint over anything that stood in his way and bury it under his very own shade of purple. Like I too could disappear under those acrylic floods.

The Appointment (Or, the Story of a Cock), by Katharina Volckmer, is a riveting, stream-of-consciousness monologue delivered in initially unclear circumstances to Dr Seligman. It feels like psychoanalysis, but not quite.

It is morbidly funny. She tells him how she regaled her therapist with her sexual fantasies about Hitler. And, "Germans don't usually bother with basements — they are happy to torture people on the first floor, they are not that discreet."

It is also painfully beautiful.

At 96 pages, one might be tempted to read this in one sitting, but the raucous tone belies how meditative this book is. Better to give every page its due.

A few themes emerge, around which she runs circles. One, she is German, and she grapples with that national identity and the legacy of the Holocaust ("Don't you think that there is something kinky about genocide?"). Two, she wrestles with, and wonders at, the nature of love (as we all do, I think). And a third, that seems tangential but is really primary (or is it the other way round), might be her relationship to her body.

I wish I had known that she acted out of the insecurity most women are born with, that they are so scared of their bodies that they would do anything to look and smell acceptable, that they wear those silly little socks so their feet don't smell in summer, and that all the make-up my mother tried to smear in my face was a form of war paint, her way of trying to protect me from the world, because they all know what happens to those who rebel —  they know that the witches' stakes are still glimmering in the background. And a lot of the upset between us was down to some unnecessary performance anxiety imposed by a world trying to keep people without cocks in their place, and I wish we had both been wiser.

Related to this are the "tragedy of the female body" and how motherhood is revered (your body is no longer your own). But the narrative keeps straying to sex robots and power dynamics and Nazis.

Above all, this book spoke to me about love, and the beauty of vulnerability in love, and the beauty of the pain that can radiate from it.

I formulated a perfect summary of this book one day earlier this week when I was out walking, but it's all gone now. I walked away the urgency of it, but there's this ongoing struggle, to somehow corral sex and pleasure, when really they fully permeate love and life, if we let it. It's the paradox of the body, that to escape it one must fully inhabit it. We touch and stroke and caress and feel our blood pulsing through the body with the prize of those few seconds when we leave it.

All my reading this week is about the body... In The Lying Life of Adults, the heart trumps reason, not because it is right, but because it simply does, the body is stronger. In Leave the World Behind, people's social contract begins to breaks down and their animal nature becomes evident, food and fucking and alcoholic oblivion regain primacy. Is it what makes us human, to transcend this vessel? Or are we better to embrace it?

The Appointment asks, what if you're in the wrong vessel, can you change it? Some reviews call it bleak, it reveals emptiness and pain. I think it is brave, hopeful, magnificent.

I can still feel the difference between the different kinds of purple, and I wish I had known at the time that colours have histories and that purple is a colour of mourning and of sadness, and that K always covered me in his own sadness and that now I carry his grief with me, because I don't believe that you can actually wash your hands, or your skin. Something will have gotten into your system before you can reach the water, and our veins are slowly filling with each other's stories and dirt, each other's colours and screams; we carry each other's broken hearts under our skin until one day they block everything and stop the flow of our own blood, and everything bursts in one final moment of despair.


No comments: