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January 26, 2008 10:57 AM   Subscribe

French writer Alain Robbe-Grillet, one of the most important literary stylists of the last 50 years, the acclaimed master of hyper-realism and the anti-novel, and member of the Académie Française, has devoted his latest novel to kiddie porn. [warning: first link contains excerpts of the novel which many may find truly disturbing.]
posted by vronsky (135 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
What an odd coincidence you posted this, I'm going to see his Last Year at Marienbad later today.
posted by Brainy at 11:05 AM on January 26, 2008


Welcome back, vronsky!

Oh, and on topic: When I was six years old I spilled a glass of Coca Cola on Alain Robbe-Grillet.
posted by Kattullus at 11:15 AM on January 26, 2008


Disgusting. I think the sexualization of violence is one of the worst trends in the media and society today--with dire consequences to come. Of course, this complements my distaste for the sort of avant-garde bullshit artist that many academics love (and which Robbe-Grillet looks to exemplify). Why is it that books like Blood Meridian--which uses violence in service of a mythic allegory and doesn't portray it positively at all--excite many academics to condemnation while something like this doesn't?
posted by sonic meat machine at 11:20 AM on January 26, 2008


I'm guessing the old perv enjoyed it;) Lucky he didn't strap you in his machine and pull your legs off.
posted by vronsky at 11:20 AM on January 26, 2008


There's a kiddie porn joke somewhere in that story, Kattullus, but damned if I'm gonna be the one to find it.
posted by item at 11:21 AM on January 26, 2008


And please Katt, expand on your story.
posted by vronsky at 11:23 AM on January 26, 2008


Actually, let me give context to my little Robbe-Grillet anecdote, given the subject matter of the post.

My dad was used to be an interpreter of French and so was Robbe-Grillet's interpreter while he was in Iceland for a literary convention in 1987. At one point he had to meet Robbe-Grillet over lunch and couldn't find anyone to babysit me so he took me along. During this lunch I had a glass of Coke which I managed to spill all over everything, including my dad and Robbe-Grillet. Robbe-Grillet got really angry at me.
posted by Kattullus at 11:27 AM on January 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


I don't usually like Momus, but I think he made some interesting observations there. I also have very little desire to read this book, but after Genet, I can understand how something like that should be written, especially in French.
posted by klangklangston at 11:29 AM on January 26, 2008


Why is it that books like Blood Meridian--which uses violence in service of a mythic allegory and doesn't portray it positively at all--excite many academics to condemnation while something like this doesn't?

...Everything's classier when French people do it?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:30 AM on January 26, 2008


"Disgusting. I think the sexualization of violence is one of the worst trends in the media and society today--with dire consequences to come."

Eponysterical, at least to me.

I think that on some level, at least for me, is that sex can be fundamentally disgusting. If you feel no real affection for someone, interacting with their mucous membranes is a pretty vile thing to do. This isn't to say that the pleasure and affection don't overcome that feeling, but I feel like it drives a lot of pornography and art that explores the explicit. Reading this review, I wonder if Robbe-Grille's novel could be compared to Mapplethorpe's cock and ball torture photos, doing something disgusting with something he feels a real palpable draw to, a love for. The trepidation comes for me on two levels then—it might be a put-on, an academic dabbling in the debased in order to condescend to passion, or he might really want to fuck little girls, something that I don't really and don't really want to read about.

As an aside, remember when everyone was all het up about women not taking their husband's name, for the horror of hyphenated names for the children? I wonder if that was latent anti-Europeanism.
posted by klangklangston at 11:38 AM on January 26, 2008


From the Guardian blog post: I cannot imagine any English or American writer daring to take such an unholy risk.

Actually, that's a load of hooey. I've read some extremely transgressive fiction by Anglophone authors. The first one to spring to mind is Irvine Welsh's novella collection Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance has all kinds of hideous things, bestiality, pederasty, necrophilia and the imaginative use of a watermelon.
posted by Kattullus at 11:39 AM on January 26, 2008


That excerpt reads like a simple pastiche of Sade; it could easily be from 120 Days of Sodom, which itself is basically indefensible.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:40 AM on January 26, 2008


He came to Providence, RI when he was making his film of that name, and seemed to assume that all the Brown undergrad coeds he met should of course want to smoke cigarettes and have sex with him.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:46 AM on January 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


StickyCarpet, do you mean Alan Resnais?
posted by Kattullus at 11:52 AM on January 26, 2008


Hmm, someone finds my nickname violent and sexual. I don't know whether I should be happy about that or not.

I would agree with you, klangklangston, that sex could be fundamentally disgusting. (In that case it is also disgusting to engage in it.) It is, however, ultimately consensual. Violence is not, at least not the violence portrayed in this excerpt. If you and your Close Personal Friend like to tie each other up and poke each other with needles, fine... but I would argue that's not violence in the purest sense. "Pain play" might be a more appropriate term.

Tying someone up and ripping their limbs off? That's a different order of things, and making it sexual is repulsive in a different way than sex could normally be repulsive given its own intrinsic qualities. Even in the "Mapplethorpe cock and ball tortue photos," which I thank the FSM I have never seen, I would assume that these were consensual, and the pain could have ended when any participant decided to end it.
posted by sonic meat machine at 11:54 AM on January 26, 2008


"Violence is not, at least not the violence portrayed in this excerpt. If you and your Close Personal Friend like to tie each other up and poke each other with needles, fine... but I would argue that's not violence in the purest sense. "Pain play" might be a more appropriate term."

I don't think there's a huge difference between ironic violence and actual violence intrinsically. While Mapplethorpe's photos look gory, they're "pain play." While this novel seems to depict hyper-real acts of sexual violence, it never happened. They're both fictions, and that's more important than how consensual they were.
posted by klangklangston at 11:59 AM on January 26, 2008


"More and more we mix up fantasy and the realisation of the fantasy. When in fact it's exactly the opposite. Someone who writes, in general, is someone who's in control of himself, who controls his perversion by writing it down.

[...]

"These people who complain are perverts, obviously! They've read this stuff, then immediately erased the fact that it's a piece of literary writing, and they've created the fantasy in their own heads! At that point they become policemen against... who? Against themselves! These people should all be in prison! Because it's they who've put the scene together in their sick heads!"
Yeah, whatever you freak. I hold this twit in the same low esteem I hold that fucktard of a director who feels a graphic movie about the kidnapping and torture of a family by white-gloved comic serial killers is somehow a bold artistic statement about... well, nothing except his own inner Jeffrey Dahmer.

You're not making a bold statement, guys, you're just psychopaths looking for validation.
sonic meat machine: Tying someone up and ripping their limbs off? That's a different order of things, and making it sexual is repulsive in a different way than sex could normally be repulsive given its own intrinsic qualities.
I wholeheartedly agree. Even desiring such porn is a disturbing thought: I was sickened by the excerpt linked in the OP, and I can't imagine a few hundred pages of that. Unlike the writer with his pseudo intellectual bullshit defense, I am actually in control because I don't want to do these things nor do I want to read or write about them.
klangklangston: While this novel seems to depict hyper-real acts of sexual violence, it never happened. They're both fictions, and that's more important than how consensual they were.
Perhaps... but why write it? I could pick up a pen and write anything, so... why this? The condemnation, at least from me, is not because it's actual violence, it's because clearly this writer is a deranged madman. If you read a story on Metafilter in explicit detail about a real-life case of people being abducted and tortured in horrific fashion before their painful, agonizing death, you'd be horrified. And if someone posted "I like to masturbate to these types of news stories!" you'd find that similarly repulsive.

Somewhere, sometime, things not unlike what this writer is describing have happened in a similar enough form; perhaps some twisted concentration camp commandante having some fun with the chattel, or a Caligula running rampant and unchecked. In that sense, such stories are like fictionalized re-tellings of actual events. The desire to read or write this is, to my mind, virtually indistinguishable from the acts themselves. Those who find this literary trash titillating are only prevented from acting it out by their lack of absolute monarchal power or control on the lives of others. Give them that, and the purchasers of this book would be ripping apart young girls and boys for sport in a heartbeat.
posted by hincandenza at 12:05 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've always found these disgust boundaries rather amusing. A nipple during half time causes kid's' heads to explode but child pornography at the rep cinema is okay (The Lover anyone?). I'm guessing it is all about the IQ of the audience. Foreign film watchers are generally smart enough not to take on board the explicit immorality and understand the implicit story. Football fans have a wider range of IQ variability so no such guarantee exists. Some will get it and some won't.

Then there is the more central question of whether we really want our society to be constrained by the limits of the mentally ill?
posted by srboisvert at 12:06 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


You could say that, klangklangston, but ultimately everything is based on stories. Fictions are what determine the differences between societies, after all--if it weren't for fictions, we'd just be cancerously spreading omnivorous vermin.

Of course Robbe-Grillet isn't the only (or even the main) example of fictionalized violent sexuality. Perhaps I got my outrages jumbled. ;) It annoys me on the one hand that academics often criticize the use of violence in Cormac McCarthy's stories, for example, and then some of the same ones like books like this where the violence has none of the "weight" that it's given in McCarthy. On the other hand, it worries me deeply that sex and violence are coming to be seen as two sides of the same coin, intrinsically linked.

Violence should not be seen as sexy. Ultimately, I think it leads to a sort of militaristic fetishism...

That's just my speculation, of course. Perhaps it doesn't, and I'm just a weird paranoid little meat machine.
posted by sonic meat machine at 12:07 PM on January 26, 2008


Well, hincandenza, I would be careful about saying that anyone who writes about or reads about something like this is just chomping at the bit to commit the acts depicted. As I said in another thread, Lolita is one of my favorite novels, but I'm certainly not out to become a Humbert Humbert (and neither was Nabokov). What's missing from Robbe-Grillet, at least in the excerpt shown, is a sense of the condemning authorial voice. Humbert Humbert is a pedophile, but he is not positively portrayed.

Many people miss this differentiation, of course, which is why a lot of people who read Lolita come away disgusted, or who read Blood Meridian think that the acts depicted there (and based on fact) are too violent. Now, why one of my acquaintances in academia enjoyed de Sade but said McCarthy was "repulsive?" I can't explain that.
posted by sonic meat machine at 12:15 PM on January 26, 2008


"Perhaps... but why write it? I could pick up a pen and write anything, so... why this? The condemnation, at least from me, is not because it's actual violence, it's because clearly this writer is a deranged madman. "

Well, either because he feels this attraction towards disgusting sexual acts, or because he's academically trying to shock and provoke people. Like I said, I'm not very interested in reading it.
posted by klangklangston at 12:18 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


hincandenza: The desire to read or write this is, to my mind, virtually indistinguishable from the acts themselves.

Excuse me, but that's a completely insane point of view. The differences between doing and writing and reading are wide enough to run a Mardi Gras parade through. If I write a story where someone gets run over by a tank it certainly doesn't mean that I want to run people over with tanks. If I read an Icelandic saga it doesn't mean I want to run about and hack people down with axes. Being able to tell the difference between what's real and what's not real is a crucial part of sanity.
posted by Kattullus at 12:20 PM on January 26, 2008 [12 favorites]


"Somewhere, sometime, things not unlike what this writer is describing have happened in a similar enough form; perhaps some twisted concentration camp commandante having some fun with the chattel, or a Caligula running rampant and unchecked. In that sense, such stories are like fictionalized re-tellings of actual events. The desire to read or write this is, to my mind, virtually indistinguishable from the acts themselves. Those who find this literary trash titillating are only prevented from acting it out by their lack of absolute monarchal power or control on the lives of others. Give them that, and the purchasers of this book would be ripping apart young girls and boys for sport in a heartbeat."

This is just bullshit. I love pulp fiction, do I love murder and rape? I enjoyed playing Grand Theft Auto, I love killing hookers and blowing up cars? I even enjoy true crime stories—do my Murder Can Be Fun zines mean that I'm one step away from becoming a serial killer or massacring Mormons?

Yes, I'm titillated by the same things that some killers are. I enjoy trying to imagine what leads to horrible acts.

Lock up your kids.
posted by klangklangston at 12:22 PM on January 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


The desire to read or write this is, to my mind, virtually indistinguishable from the acts themselves.

(Head explodes)

(NB: I do not actually want my head to explode, and it has not just exploded.)
posted by WPW at 12:23 PM on January 26, 2008 [7 favorites]


I am not sure that you or I can say that "the condemning authorial voice" isn't present in Robbe-Grillet's work by only reading a paragraph, sonic meat machine. I'm willing to bet that he is no Nabokov, but maybe there is something there. I will probably wait and read the book.

Perhaps... but why write it? I could pick up a pen and write anything, so... why this?

Why anything? Why not explore the dark recesses of the human mind? Why not define these ideas and roll them around and stare at them and figure out why they exist and why people have at times gotten to the so-called subhuman point of doing these horrible things (which, incidentally, seem to be things only humans could ever do, being as far as I know the only animal to have the ability to conceivably enjoy torturing.)

I am not saying this is a worthwhile book, but I don't think "it's too horrible to be written" is a good argument against it.
posted by blacklite at 12:23 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Violence should not be seen as sexy. Ultimately, I think it leads to a sort of militaristic fetishism..."

Violence sometimes is sexy. Sex is sometimes violent. And militaristic fetishism would seem to be much more about the control of violence.
posted by klangklangston at 12:24 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


The first line in my remark above should be italicised. Hang on ...

I am now italicising the first line in my remark above.

Dang! This doesn't work at all!
posted by WPW at 12:24 PM on January 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


blacklite, when you've read it, please come back to MeFi and tell us whether there's a condemning authorial voice. :D
posted by sonic meat machine at 12:29 PM on January 26, 2008


Robbe-Grillet got really angry at me.

and now he's writing kidding porn - and it's all YOUR FAULT!!

---

From the Guardian blog post: I cannot imagine any English or American writer daring to take such an unholy risk.

william vollmann has and it didn't read like half-assed marquis de sade, either - for one thing, his characters and situations are all too believable ...
posted by pyramid termite at 12:29 PM on January 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


I think the difference between a Mapplethorpe cock and ball torture photo and the passage linked in this thread is one of misogyny. I'll be interested to watch this thread unfold and cross reference it with the recent threads on sexism and see how many people that blanche at phrase "sweater puppy" come running to the defense of an 85 year old man's rape fantasies about 13 year old girls. I guess this is like Answer Me or Whitehouse, where misogyny is cool because it's edgy?
posted by The Straightener at 12:38 PM on January 26, 2008


You know, when Monsieur Robbe-Grillet writes about little kids being dismembered, he's actually picturing "that little baiseur that spilled Coca-Cola on me."
posted by sonic meat machine at 12:41 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


I actually feel that it's wonderful that someone at 85 - or maybe exactly because of that, the impunity of old age - still finds a way and has the will to provoke society out of the reigning puritanism.

What's missing from Robbe-Grillet, at least in the excerpt shown, is a sense of the condemning authorial voice.


I don't think so. If he's trying to revive the french libertinism that would mean not being apologetical for having "deviant" (or whatever) fantasies.

I think the sexualization of violence is one of the worst trends in the media and society today.

Violence is erotic. It's all about power, no?
posted by lucia__is__dada at 12:42 PM on January 26, 2008


"I'll be interested to watch this thread unfold and cross reference it with the recent threads on sexism and see how many people that blanche at phrase "sweater puppy" come running to the defense of an 85 year old man's rape fantasies about 13 year old girls. I guess this is like Answer Me or Whitehouse, where misogyny is cool because it's edgy?"

The difference there is that he's not here—I'll defend anyone's right to be misogynistic in their own novels, so long as I don't have to read 'em, and I'll argue against misogyny here because it's not what I want in this community.
posted by klangklangston at 12:43 PM on January 26, 2008



and now he's writing kidding porn - and it's all YOUR FAULT!!


Heh, kidding porn. Maybe you're onto something: if he just puts a disclaimer at the end along the lines of "j/k folks, I really don't advocate child rape!" then we could go back to condemning other violent and pornographic trash. Lolita, or I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, or The 120 Days of Sodom, or the Iliad, Bible...
posted by a young man in spats at 12:51 PM on January 26, 2008


I would prefer not to conflate a distaste for sexualized violence with Feminism as a political movement, which has a lot of wrinkles of which I'm not particularly fond. That said, yes, lucia, the story of Abeer al-Janabi is an example of the reason that sexualization makes me nervous.
posted by sonic meat machine at 12:55 PM on January 26, 2008


I've always loved his novels. And I'm so glad that his new one is making people upset.
posted by cytherea at 12:57 PM on January 26, 2008


And for what it's worth, this is certainly not his first novel that uses the subjects of sex, violence, and children as subjects for his paintings. You're 45 years too late.
posted by cytherea at 1:00 PM on January 26, 2008


What's missing from Robbe-Grillet, at least in the excerpt shown, is a sense of the condemning authorial voice.

I suspect that for some people a condemning authorial voice would make the text even sexxxier!

(Do you really find that Lolita has a 'condemning authorial voice'? I never got that impression myself; I think that we extend Nabokov the benefit of the doubt because he's, well, great, and because he's Canon there's no need to take up a position regarding sex with children before we discuss it...)
posted by a young man in spats at 1:04 PM on January 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


klangklangston, you seem to be arguing to a different point than everyone else here. No-one's suggesting that he doesn't have the legal right to pen whatever he wants. It's just that he sounds like a shit writer and a shit person. I've never read for just the reason that I've read excerpts now and again and thought: well, that's just violence. Burroughs does interesting things with violence. Vollmann uses violence to pose moral dilemmas, as does The Sopranos in my opinion. Even Funny Games, which sonic meat machine didn't like, tries to use violence to play with the viewer's fascination with on-screen violence; I don't think it does it very well, but at least I can recognize an intention there besides just fantasizing about violence as an end in itself. But this guy, either he's proud of himself for shocking us, which is childish and not the mark of a mature writer, or he's just spewing out his own perversions, or both...both of which are legal but reprehensible.
posted by creasy boy at 1:06 PM on January 26, 2008


Eh, I've never read Robe-Grillet, that is. And hincandenza mentioned Funny Games. Sorry for the confusion.
posted by creasy boy at 1:08 PM on January 26, 2008


Lolita has a 'condemning authorial voice'? I never got that impression myself

I agree. Although Humbert does go to jail - even if for murder - so you have a kind of reassurance that there is some justice in the world. If he went on the loose having a merry life, chasing nymphets, dying of old age, perfectly happy, that would probably make even more people outraged.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 1:13 PM on January 26, 2008


If you're even talking about a 'condemning authorial voice', it's a good indication that you didn't really understand the book.
posted by cytherea at 1:18 PM on January 26, 2008


When I was six years old I spilled a glass of Coca Cola on Alain Robbe-Grillet.

There's a kiddie porn joke somewhere in that story, Kattullus, but damned if I'm gonna be the one to find it.

Well, you might start with something along the lines that Coke does rhyme with poke. Or, maybe not.
posted by ericb at 1:22 PM on January 26, 2008


see how many people ... come running to the defense of an 85 year old man's rape fantasies about 13 year old girls.

The Straightener, your comment suggests a fun game we could play. Let's recast the subject matter of great works of literature as vile fantasies. Perhaps Crime and Punishment could be "a Russian novelist's fantasies of elder abuse," the Odyssey could be "an ancient Greek's child-and-spouse-abandonment fantasy," various Poe works could be "a sick man's torture fantasies," etc.

It's fun to mistake a writer's depiction of crime as an endorsement of crime!
posted by jayder at 1:26 PM on January 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


Ballard & Burroughs both went further than Robbe-Grillet in the English language. People are woefully ignorant of literature.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 1:32 PM on January 26, 2008


I've got no problem with him writing about this subject. But the excert included in the blog doesn't impress me.

I've tied women up and inflicted pain on them. This stuff doesn't remind me in the least of those experiences. Nor do I feel the kind of depressing, sick, slowing-down-to-gawk-at-accidents feeling I get when I read the infamous Jake Baker story or the less disturbing but still mixed feelings I get when I read parts of the Gor novels. What I'm reading here is written by a guy who doesn't seem to know much about his topic. Worse, he hasn't even bothered to think through any of it to try to imagine what these experiences might be like if he actually had them. He just throws a bunch of vague images into the pot and says "There. That oughta piss off someone."

But then, I could lodge similar complaints about ninety five percent of contemporary fiction.
posted by Clay201 at 1:32 PM on January 26, 2008


I've always loved his novels. And I'm so glad that his new one is making people upset.

Okay, cytherea , I'll bite.

You're "so glad" people are getting upset -because...?
posted by Jody Tresidder at 1:32 PM on January 26, 2008


You're "so glad" people are getting upset -because...?

we're bourgeois and she's not, la de daa ...

actually i'm not upset, i'm underwhelmed
posted by pyramid termite at 1:37 PM on January 26, 2008


It's funny, like bees getting upset over a Hopper painting because of the color of the paint and the chemicals in the paint.
posted by cytherea at 1:38 PM on January 26, 2008


I think it's funny we're all arguing about a book that we've read, at most, 300 words of. Talk about pointless with a capital P.

Have you even read the book, cytherea, whose (uninformed, granted) critics you feel qualified to compare to insects?
posted by mr_roboto at 1:44 PM on January 26, 2008


actually i'm not upset, i'm underwhelmed

Indeed...that Robbe-Grillet would at this point write a book about child porn is nothing but drearily predictable. The violence seen in good writers like McCarthy and Vollmann is more disturbing because there's something at stake there -- it's not just an old man tittilating his ego in a vaccuum.
posted by creasy boy at 1:49 PM on January 26, 2008


I haven't read his new one, no, but he's one of my favorite authors and I've read pretty much everything he's written.

I'm sorry. But only Americans would talk about whether or not Nabokov approved or disproved of child molestation. Or whether books they haven't read, by an author they haven't read--one of the best and most influential authors of the 20th century, in my opinion, who writes books which don't even have plots--are written by a BAD MAN because they are dirty and dangerous and he's a perverted proponent of child raping.
posted by cytherea at 1:52 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, I went to the first link and read his nasty little excerpt.

Anyone who could write that-in that tone-is evil. And anyone who could read that, with pleasure should be in fear for their souls.

Maybe I am so pissed off because I have friends who were sexually abused in some pretty heinous ways when they were children. It's hard enough to hear what they need to say about that.
posted by konolia at 2:08 PM on January 26, 2008


"I'm sorry. But only Americans would talk about whether or not Nabokov approved or disproved of child molestation."

Cytherea,

That is a very daft comment.

It's a perfectly valid part of any discussion about Nabakov.

One may entertain it quite separately to a discussion about the quality of the work itself, or within that discussion - if one likes.

This thread could become every bit as provocative and lively as you seem to want (particularly since you appear to be the only member claiming in depth familiarity with our French friend's writings) , without petty nationalist generalizations, I think.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 2:09 PM on January 26, 2008


It's a perfectly valid part of any [naive] discussion about Nabakov [by people who haven't got a clue what the book was about].
posted by cytherea at 2:11 PM on January 26, 2008


Only an American would talk about whether books "are written by a BAD MAN because they are dirty and dangerous and he's a perverted proponent of child raping" -- are you sure? Because it sounds like the French are doing that too.

I've read excerpts of his work before, I read the excerpt from this latest work, I've asked people to describe his works to me and tell me what's good about them, and all I've gathered is that he writes elegant sentences and "writes books which don't even have plots" as you say. As far as I'm concerned an author can write about child molestation without explicitly condemming it, but there has to be some intention there besides just lascivious attention to the details of torture -- especially if it goes on that way for hundreds of pages without plot.
posted by creasy boy at 2:19 PM on January 26, 2008


The desire to read or write this is, to my mind, virtually indistinguishable from the acts themselves.

But tolerating pornography is really such a low price to pay for free expression. After all, others have endured every conceivable torture for this same right. They lived de Sade where we can't even stomach reading it... and, frankly, isn't that embarrassing?
posted by kid ichorous at 2:21 PM on January 26, 2008


But only Americans...

Yeah, sure.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:26 PM on January 26, 2008


But only Americans would talk about whether or not Nabokov approved or disproved of child molestation.

Cytherea, don't be a jerk. Plenty of people of many nationalities have talked about that. I agree with you that it's a pretty subliterary approach to Nabokov, but it's quite understandable.

I see you live in NYC; are you a self-hating American or a visitor who indulges in the oh-so-popular sport of mocking one's host?
posted by languagehat at 2:28 PM on January 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


hincandenza: The desire to read or write this is, to my mind, virtually indistinguishable from the acts themselves.
Katullus: Excuse me, but that's a completely insane point of view. The differences between doing and writing and reading are wide enough to run a Mardi Gras parade through. If I write a story where someone gets run over by a tank it certainly doesn't mean that I want to run people over with tanks. If I read an Icelandic saga it doesn't mean I want to run about and hack people down with axes. Being able to tell the difference between what's real and what's not real is a crucial part of sanity.
Tough words, considering your clumsiness with soft drinks started this whole mess!

In any event, my point is that the desire to ponder such acts is virtually indistinguishable from the desire to commit them. It's just that there are outlets for that desire which are socially acceptable and don't have a high cost. If someone is reading this book and finding it erotic, they would actually want to do such a thing- hence the fantasy of reading about it instead. People playing World of Warcraft, or Grand Theft Auto, or for that matter Rock band, actually desire to do those things in real life- but they are either too difficult, or with too many downsides, to actually want to attempt. The fondness of so many for gangster films where the mob is glorious and tough and so cool reflects a desire to be those people. Of course, it would be a hard life, and likely an early death, and in reality would be incredibly hurtful so most of us would never think of being an anti-hero. But the desire to do that is still there.

There's a world of difference, of course, between fantasizing and doing- such as the Jake Baker case mentioned earlier. But if I were talking about other forms of pornography, I'd get no disagreement: the desire to watch a hot chick sucking a hard cock with aplomb is really the desire to have one's dick suck with ferocity by the same chick. So is it that shocking for me to suggest that writing, and reading, lame "shocking" kiddie porn sadism stories is really no different than the desire to act out those stories? At least in something like Grand Theft Auto, the deaths are usually "pointful", i.e. you're targeting other violent criminals. This kiddie porn sadism, at least from the excerpt, is pointless except as pornography: and at that, it's disturbing that people including the author would want to read that.

Humans are complex, and that desire to explore being utterly in control of one's world can also be balanced by a genuine wish to be a "good person" and act well within social boundaries. But that doesn't remove the desire that was there, it simply nullifies it as a threat to our communities and selves in the vast majority of cases. There is presumably some amount of people out there who lust for children, seeing as Metafilter has even linked "teen modeling" sites that are thinly veiled whackoff material for pedophiles. But even if there are 10,000 people downloading such material, it doesn't mean there are 10,000 people actually molesting children.

We don't generally punish people simply for the desire to do something (well, except kiddie porn involving actual participants, I guess)- but the desire is the root of the action.

I'm not naive that humans have a very dark, spider-side, a predatory and isolated and ruthless quality in all of us. And I think exploring that in art can be meaningful and valuable, if done well and with purpose. I haven't read any Cormac McCarthy, but after seeing "No Country for Old Men" I rather want to. There was definitely a moral message there, and a bleak exploration of human existence- we weren't simply being invited to revel in brutality as in most gore/slasher movies, or pretentious tripe like "Funny Games". In "No Country", even the unseen killing of the wife in the final frames was as shocking and carrying as much impact as the first murders; yet we did not see the acts for the most part, we were not encouraged to dwell on the intimate details of pain or death and derive pleasure from them.

That's probably because McCarthy, and the Coen Brothers, are artists of some merit, whereas this guy sounds like he's descended into nothing but pointless senile psychopathia on the printed page.
kid ichorous: After all, others have endured every conceivable torture for this same right. They lived de Sade where we can't even stomach reading it... and, frankly, isn't that embarrassing?
It's precisely that, actually. You've made my point well: in our history as a species, just about every conceivable torture has probably been enacted- it's the rule 34 of the actual world. It's our growth and evolution in our social mores and moral state that we would be repulsed by de Sade or this wanna-be piker, where once torture was simply a fact of life. That's... progress, and it's that progress that people fought and died for, yes?

It would seem more wasteful of that effort and progress to regress back to a debauched delight in the dehumanizing torment of others. People who regularly visit ogrish or rotten to see snuff porn, mutilated bodies, and watch I-rackies getting blowed up via infrared scopes... or people who'd popularize donkey punching and anal gangbangs leading to prolapsed rectums are the same people who would go de Sade in a heartbeat, if given license. As someone posted above, it's the sexualization of violence that is so disturbing a trend: Humbert Humbert didn't tear off Lolita's leg with tiny needles and let her die in a pool of her own blood.
posted by hincandenza at 2:29 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


StickyCarpet, do you mean Alan Resnais?
posted by Kattullus

Well, it was around the same time, anyway, and it was Robbe-Grillet.

As far as who "directed" what, take a look at the script for Last Year at Marienbad, and see what you think about what it means to have "directed" that. It's a very complete shooting script, and specifies all the camera moves and the exact details of how the corner of a mirror just touches the edge of the film frame, etc.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:36 PM on January 26, 2008


"Art certainly cannot advance under compulsion to traditional forms, and nothing in such a field is more stifling to progress than limitation of the right to experiment with a new technique. The foolish judgments of Lord Eldon about one hundred years ago, proscribing the works of Byron and Southey, and the finding by the jury under a charge by Lord Denman that the publication of Shelley's "Queen Mab" was an indictable offense are a warning to all who have to determine the limits of the field within which authors may exercise themselves. We think that Ulysses is a book of originality and sincerity of treatment and that it has not the effect of promoting lust. Accordingly it does not fall within the statute, even though it justly may offend many."
posted by Dr. Curare at 2:41 PM on January 26, 2008


In any event, my point is that the desire to ponder such acts is virtually indistinguishable from the desire to commit them. ... If someone is reading this book and finding it erotic, they would actually want to do such a thing- hence the fantasy of reading about it instead. People playing World of Warcraft, or Grand Theft Auto, or for that matter Rock band, actually desire to do those things in real life- but they are either too difficult, or with too many downsides, to actually want to attempt. The fondness of so many for gangster films where the mob is glorious and tough and so cool reflects a desire to be those people.

You can repeat this idea as often as you like, in as many variations as you can think up, and it's still completely and bizarrely wrong. I have no idea where you get it from, but any sentient person who has actually experienced artistic representations of life knows it to be untrue. I myself have enjoyed various forms of transgressive art, including gangster films and "shocking" novels, and I have no desire whatever to "be those people." You can choose to accept my self-reporting of my interior state or continue to privilege your fantasy of what other people are like; it's up to you.
posted by languagehat at 2:45 PM on January 26, 2008 [10 favorites]


Violence is erotic. It's all about power, no?

This statement makes me almost physically ill.

I've been avoiding this thread because I knew I'd find things in it which would affect me in such a way... I have just one comment for now, and that's to question the reason why both critics and commenters here are talking about this book as "transgressive". The reason whyI ask this is because this book is the same old fucking same old. Surely something transgressive should be newish, should be presenting something that hasn't been made overt before, revealing something previously hidden? In other words, Sade was transgressive. But the works written, drawn, and filmed since then that turn on the degradation and mutilation of women? They may try to wear the drag of "transgression", and pose as provocative (those that aren't honest about their strictly pornographic function, that is) but really, they're as mainstream as all get out, where "mainstream" = topic that society is aware of, flirts with more or less openly in different ways, and just doesn't seem to be able to look away from. I submit the most recent example that comes to mind, the Diane Lane movie that just opened, Untraceable. I submit Nancy Grace. Etcetera. Like I said, torture and rape is mainstream. Robbe-Grillet trying to dress up this exercise as literature-- again, whatever.
posted by jokeefe at 2:47 PM on January 26, 2008


"But if I were talking about other forms of pornography, I'd get no disagreement: the desire to watch a hot chick sucking a hard cock with aplomb is really the desire to have one's dick suck with ferocity by the same chick."

You'd get disagreement here—there's quite a few situations that I enjoy as pornography that I do not enjoy, or enjoy not nearly as much, in real life.
posted by klangklangston at 3:03 PM on January 26, 2008


While I can't speak to the novelty of this novel, jokeefe, I can say that art doesn't have to be novel to transgress—boundaries stay stable enough for whole generations to transgress them individually—it does have to be novel to shock.
posted by klangklangston at 3:05 PM on January 26, 2008


a graphic movie about the kidnapping and torture of a family by white-gloved comic serial killers is somehow a bold artistic statement about... well, nothing except his own inner Jeffrey Dahmer [...] some twisted concentration camp commandante having some fun with the chattel, or a Caligula running rampant and unchecked. [...] the purchasers of this book would be ripping apart young girls and boys for sport in a heartbeat [...] the desire to watch a hot chick sucking a hard cock with aplomb is really the desire to have one's dick suck with ferocity by the same chick [...] People who regularly visit ogrish or rotten to see snuff porn, mutilated bodies, and watch I-rackies getting blowed up via infrared scopes... or people who'd popularize donkey punching and anal gangbangs leading to prolapsed rectums

hincandenza, there's more fucked up imagery in your tirades than in the entire page of text in question! Robbe-Grillet's book just seems like de Sade warmed over, and ain't exactly making my Amazon Wish List. Your off-the-top-of-the-head assemblage of the vilest extremes of human behavior, though, kind of makes me want to take a bath. (And I don't even like baths - get all pruney...) But I assume it's OK for you to indulge, for rhetorical reasons, because you're Making A Point. Perhaps, besides being just another creepy old Frenchman (like Maurice Chevalier, that pedophile monster!)...Alain R-G is Making A Point as well?

Anyway. Someone get me out of the bath when anyone shows up in the thread who's actually read the goddamn book.
posted by a young man in spats at 3:29 PM on January 26, 2008


[please disregard my quote of the line beginning "hot chick sucking a hard cock" line above. Oral sex is not "fucked up". It's pretty great, in fact. In porn or in real life!]
posted by a young man in spats at 3:32 PM on January 26, 2008


What's all the hubbub? There is nothing new about that kind of sickening sexuality except that it's coming from this author. If this kind of thing leaves you feeling dirty or sick, then don't read it. Don't read history, or, as was mentioned above, the bible.

My question is, why is he writing this kind of thing and why now?

Is it because he's old and wants attention? Is he playing out a fantasy? Let's shoot him an e-mail!
posted by snsranch at 3:40 PM on January 26, 2008


There i, indeed, worse in the Bible. Condonned by God Teh Almighty (Him|Her)self.
Eeew, those nasty christians who read about dashing children in pieces and ripping pregnant women open,they're reaaaally really bad people.
(about 15 seconds of googling, then i felt mildly sick.)
posted by vivelame at 4:00 PM on January 26, 2008


They may try to wear the drag of "transgression", and pose as provocative (those that aren't honest about their strictly pornographic function, that is)

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck

*head explodes*

*dies*
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:14 PM on January 26, 2008


You know, it's interesting. People keep bringing up the possibility that those who read about this type of torture would enjoy perpetrating it. But what of readers who fantasize about having it inflicted upon them? Masochists are probably about as plentiful as sadists. That's been my experience, at any rate.

So those of you getting your panties in a wad... what about this second type of pervert? In which dark hole should we lock him or her for getting off on this stuff?
posted by Clay201 at 4:18 PM on January 26, 2008


You can repeat this idea as often as you like, in as many variations as you can think up, and it's still completely and bizarrely wrong. I have no idea where you get it from, but any sentient person who has actually experienced artistic representations of life knows it to be untrue. I myself have enjoyed various forms of transgressive art, including gangster films and "shocking" novels, and I have no desire whatever to "be those people." You can choose to accept my self-reporting of my interior state or continue to privilege your fantasy of what other people are like; it's up to you.

It's not a new idea at all, though it is still radical enough and hard enough to accept for many people to remain controversial, and I would agree that hincandenza's conflation of the desire to ponder with the desire to act is perhaps overly provocative, but the idea is in fact a very old one which can be found in many places, not least of which in the introduction sequence to the seventies Japanese TV series version of Journey To The West, known in English translation as Monkey Magic:

In the world before Monkey, primal chaos reigned. Heaven sought order, but the phoenix can fly only when it’s feathers are grown. The four worlds formed again and yet again, as endless aeons wheeled and passed. Time and the pure essences of Heaven all worked upon a certain rock, old as creation. It became magically fertile. The first egg was named “Thought”. Tathagata Buddha, the Father Buddha said “With our thoughts, we make the world”. Elemental forces caused the egg to hatch. From it came a stone monkey. The nature of monkey was irrepressible!

The exact same idea is covered far more abstrusely in Robert Graves's White Goddess, which hints more than broadly at the way in which art and poetry and magic and reality creation tend to merge into one another in a very real way. Latterly a very bald and stripped down version of it has been marketed under the name NLP. Which, used properly, works. That's just the first three examples that spring to mind.

It's why people bother writing protest songs; it's why repressive regimes like to heavily regulate artistic production; it's why art is important and not just so much masturbation; it's why hard-nosed business people spend large sums of money on marketing campaigns. It doesn't always work, but when it does, it really does. You may well be of the opinion that you can enjoy as much transgressive art as you like without being affected by it, it seems to me that this is the idea that is completely and bizarrely wrong.

In terms of literature, there are only so many books you can read in a lifetime - an alarmingly small number - and it is therefore reasonable to be quite strict about what you do and do not read. While it is of course true that not everyone who spends their time reading a book containing an elderly Frenchman's book-length fantasies about raping and torturing little girls is likely to go and do anything of the sort, it is hard to understand why someone might want to go and spend time in that place with that Frenchman, nor what they might gain from it in any way.

With our thoughts we make the world.

I know it's dangerous to condemn a book you have not read, but from the write-ups given, seriously, you want this guy to control your thoughts for even a little while? Why would anyone want a thing like that?

This is absolutely not an argument for censorship, by the way - for me it's an argument against it - how could any censor be trusted to create the world in your interest rather than their own? Instead it's an argument for individual responsibility. But that's a whole 'nuther sidetrack and this comment is already far too verbose.
posted by motty at 4:22 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's about slavery. The characters are slaves. Slavery is a big problem today, something like over 27 million(*) around the world at any given time, many of them young girls held as sex slaves, many of them in places you wouldn't expect, like NY, Washington, London and no doubt Paris. It's interesting we look at the sex and violence and totally miss the slavery. Slavery is hidden in plain site most of the time. Perhaps that is the point, it doesn't even seem to register on our morality radar, we want to hide it because it involves sex with minors.
posted by stbalbach at 4:30 PM on January 26, 2008


I know it's dangerous to condemn a book you have not read, but from the write-ups given, seriously, you want this guy to control your thoughts for even a little while? Why would anyone want a thing like that?

Reading is NOT a passive act. The only response I can come up with to any of what you've expressed here, other than a reiteration of my post above, is to unequivocally state my desire to watch anything called "Monkey Magic." I'm going to pretend that the rest of your post doesn't exist. That part was cool, though.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:30 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, the Tartuffes have really come out of the woodwork these past few days. It's 2008, and you're still reaching for the smelling salts when you read about pedophilia? Please.

Lecherous tavern, and you its regulars,
nine pillars along from the Twins’ pillars,
do you think you’re the only ones with cocks,
the only ones who’re allowed to fuck
young girls, and consider the rest of us goats?
Or, because a hundred or two of you sit in a row, you,
dullards, that I daren’t bugger two hundred together?
Think on: I’ll draw all over the front
of the tavern with your leavings.
Because my girl, who’s left my arms,
whom I loved as no other girl’s ever been loved,
for whom so many great battles were fought,
is there. You, all the rich and the fortunate, love her,
and, what’s so shameful, it’s true, all the lesser ones,
all the adulterous frequenters of by-ways:
you, above all, one of the hairy ones,
rabbit-faced offspring of Spain,
Egnatius. Whom a shadowy beard improves,
and teeth scrubbed with Iberian piss.
(Catullus 37)
posted by nasreddin at 4:31 PM on January 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: a creaky, angular, glinting ice phallus

Glad I don't have one of th... Oh wait. *slinks off*
posted by localroger at 4:38 PM on January 26, 2008


kittens for breakfast, I thought I made your head explode and you died? And yet you still post. :)

All I can say is that there's a difference between sex and violence. I think that they should be different things. Can we agree on that? And that those places where they overlap should ideally be in a symbolic context, whether in consensual acting out or in works of art which reflect on morality and consequence (or in simple, confined to fantasy works of pornography)?

There is nothing in this book under discussion which leads me to believe that there is any purpose to this book other than sensation-- no moral critique, no satire, no philosophy ala Sade, nothing at all but the dispassionate description of acts which I hope we all agree are horrific-- cruelty taken to its utter inhuman extreme. Why publish this? Why read it? What for? I am guessing that it's intended to shock and scandalize, and I find that drearily tiresome. Attempts to fit it into some French cultural tradition are all very well, but I wonder who would invoke such a literary defence if this book was written by an 85 year old woman and spent 200 pages or so detailing the abuse and torture of little boys. I don't think that the subject matter of this book, without (as it appears) any, uh, redeeming value, deserves to get a pass on the grounds of the author being a member of the Academie Francaise.
posted by jokeefe at 4:56 PM on January 26, 2008


jokeefe, normally I agree with the things you say, but I disagree in this case. "Pshaw, that book has no value aside from sensation" is a standard way of sublimating aesthetic shock and displeasure. No one, attacking Sade in the 18th century, said "It's shocking but at least there's philosophy"; likewise with Burroughs, Henry Miller, and any number of scandalous writers. It's always exactly the priggish stance you're adopting here.

I wonder who would invoke such a literary defence if this book was written by an 85 year old woman and spent 200 pages or so detailing the abuse and torture of little boys.


This argument is highly disingenuous, and you have no evidence for this claim other than a vague desire to blame things on the patriarchy. Usually there's something to that, but here? Give me a break.


All I can say is that there's a difference between sex and violence. I think that they should be different things. Can we agree on that? And that those places where they overlap should ideally be in a symbolic context, whether in consensual acting out or in works of art which reflect on morality and consequence (or in simple, confined to fantasy works of pornography)?


Why should I buy your morally-righteous, arbitrarily constructed aesthetic guidelines? Is it just because you're offended, and I should be too?
posted by nasreddin at 5:06 PM on January 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


You may well be of the opinion that you can enjoy as much transgressive art as you like without being affected by it, it seems to me that this is the idea that is completely and bizarrely wrong.

Your problem there is that you think "affected" means just one thing—I am rarely unaffected after dealing with art, or media of any sort, but that affect doesn't necessarily mean pleasure or desire or affection.

Attempts to fit it into some French cultural tradition are all very well, but I wonder who would invoke such a literary defence if this book was written by an 85 year old woman and spent 200 pages or so detailing the abuse and torture of little boys.

I think I'd be a bit more impassioned in my defense if it were an 85-year-old woman talking about the abuse of little boys—that would seem more novel and interesting.
posted by klangklangston at 5:11 PM on January 26, 2008


I wrote a longer response, but it's simple: fiction exists to visit places that you will not, cannot, or should not go in the real world. If you can't handle that stay in the kiddie pool.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:23 PM on January 26, 2008 [4 favorites]


Bearing in mind Mencken's dictum...

The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.

...bearing that fully in mind, I also say this tired old scoundrel-slash-attention-whore's form of, uh, art, as displayed in his nasty little book, will find its true and largest audience among the fappers in the lolicon section of 4chan. Sounds like a lot of the rest of you will have nics and avatars there already.


> do you think you’re the only ones with cocks,
> the only ones who’re allowed to fuck
> young girls, and consider the rest of us goats?

Gaius Valerius talks the talk about fucking young girls but he was actually into debauched MI(wn)LF's ten years older than himself. (We used to put the juicy bits into Latin to keep them from the uneducated and impressionable, so Eadem igitur opera accusent C. Catullum quod Lesbiam pro Clodia nominarit, et Ticidam similiter quod quae Metella erat Perillam scripserit.) His gift for vituperation was, however, world class.
posted by jfuller at 5:23 PM on January 26, 2008


You may well be of the opinion that you can enjoy as much transgressive art as you like without being affected by it, it seems to me that this is the idea that is completely and bizarrely wrong.

Could you try actually reading what I said and responding to it, or would that be too much work? I did not say I can enjoy as much transgressive art as I like without being affected by it, I said I did not want to "be those people" (the ones committing the transgressions in the works of art, if that needs to be explained). Any art worth its salt is going to affect you; otherwise, why bother experiencing it? If you think transgressive art must inevitably affect you by degrading you, well, that's your opinion. I think it's a primitive and unjustifiable one, but of course that's my opinion. We'll just each have to enjoy the art we each like.

There is nothing in this book under discussion which leads me to believe...

You know I'm nuts about you, jokeefe, but you keep talking about this book as if you'd read it. You have not read it, and it surprises me that you are willing to pronounce so confidently upon a book you know only from a brief description. You might have felt the same about Lolita from reading outraged screeds fifty years ago. I understand that the description outrages you, and you might well feel the same about the book if you read it, but still, you might want to pull back a little.
posted by languagehat at 5:25 PM on January 26, 2008


jokeefe, are you arguing that this book should be banned? You don't quite say so, but what you've written seems to be leading to that conclusion. Are you saying that we shouldn't allow this book because it will have some sort negative effects in the physical world?
posted by ssg at 5:25 PM on January 26, 2008


Was anyone else amused to find that "in France, they have the Prix Sade, to reward 'works defying the moral or political order of society'? A prize for "transgressive" works seems contradictory. (Double irony quotes for the word "transgressive," which is one of those self-lauding adjectives used by people who imagine that, in this day and age, they are brave for creating or espousing works that offend some people).
posted by QuietDesperation at 5:25 PM on January 26, 2008


Gaius Valerius talks the talk about fucking young girls but he was actually into debauched MI(wn)LF's ten years older than himself.

Don't be silly, you have no idea what he was into. All we have are the poems.

Was anyone else amused to find that "in France, they have the Prix Sade, to reward 'works defying the moral or political order of society'? A prize for "transgressive" works seems contradictory.

We're talking about France, where politicians are expected to write "deep" books and keep mistresses and transgression is a proud national tradition.
posted by languagehat at 5:31 PM on January 26, 2008


OK, now I'm intrigued. The French do seem to like A-RG, after all, and I like the French. My local library branch has several of his books in English translation - I'll pick one up and report back.

For comparison, I'll inquire of the librarians about books by elderly women involving the torture of little boys (as many as possible (boys, not books. One book will suffice, thanks.))

Sadly, they don't appear to have 'Monkey Magic' available, even by interlibrary loan.
posted by a young man in spats at 5:34 PM on January 26, 2008


I think the sexualization of violence is one of the worst trends in the media and society

Violence has always been eroticized, sentimentalized and glorified as a singularly beautiful (if occasionally horrifying) ideal in art.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:37 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Further, this work is certainly nothing new — or, rather, the outrage about it — if one considers Samuel Delany's Hogg.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:42 PM on January 26, 2008


Could you try actually reading what I said and responding to it, or would that be too much work? I did not say I can enjoy as much transgressive art as I like without being affected by it, I said I did not want to "be those people" (the ones committing the transgressions in the works of art, if that needs to be explained). Any art worth its salt is going to affect you; otherwise, why bother experiencing it? If you think transgressive art must inevitably affect you by degrading you, well, that's your opinion. I think it's a primitive and unjustifiable one, but of course that's my opinion. We'll just each have to enjoy the art we each like.

Thank you for the clarification. There is a conflation here between trangressive art in general, which is of course often a good thing depending on exactly what is being trangressed, and this Robbe-Grillet book in particular, which has yet, so far as I can see, to be directly defended by anyone.

I no more asserted that transgressive art must inevitably be degrading or damaging than you asserted that you can enjoy trangressive art without repercussion; meanwhile you were responding to a post about this specific book by talking about trangressive art in general.

Since none of us have actually so far as I can tell read this book and presumably only some of us will, I suspect that we will indeed have to leave it as 'we'll just each have to enjoy the art we each like'. For myself I stopped tending to be attracted to transgressive art for its own sake at about the point I found that more and more of it was created to be transgressive for its own sake.
posted by motty at 5:45 PM on January 26, 2008


interacting with their mucous membranes

you old smoothie, you.
posted by jonmc at 5:46 PM on January 26, 2008


aymis: In re Monkey Magic: see here for the TV series and here for an English translation of some of the book.
posted by motty at 5:51 PM on January 26, 2008


motty: thanks! also not at the library, but I'll be keeping an eye out for both. p.s. why are we whispering?
posted by a young man in spats at 6:06 PM on January 26, 2008



I thought this article about Rousseau's attack on theatre as a corrupter of Virtue was on point here.

A quote:

Many students tell me that reading Rousseau makes them conscious of the fact that ineluctably fascinating human wrongdoing almost always trumps the dullness of virtue, and that people who cheerily trumpet art (especially that which showcases bad behavior as entertainment) are blind to both art's power and its peril
posted by Maias at 6:36 PM on January 26, 2008




Oops, link didn't work. Here it is.
posted by Maias at 6:37 PM on January 26, 2008


aymis: You're welcome. We're whispering because this thread is about that Robbe-Grillet book not Journey To The West and I have this phobia about causing derails. But I've heard that whispering is ok in small doses.
posted by motty at 6:37 PM on January 26, 2008


Shhh! You two. Quiet over there.
posted by stbalbach at 6:37 PM on January 26, 2008


"and this Robbe-Grillet book in particular, which has yet, so far as I can see, to be directly defended by anyone."

Yeah, none of us have really read it aside from Momus, and I don't really feel from the excerpt that I have much interest. I was just provoked by the incredibly silliness of the reaction.
posted by klangklangston at 6:38 PM on January 26, 2008


> none of us have really read it aside from Momus,

There is, so far, one reader review of Roman Sentimental on amazon.fr, and it says pretty much all that need be said:

Pour les nostalgiques du Pape du Nouveau Roman, et/ou pour tous ceux et toutes celles qui aiment la gonflette.

[For people who missed the Pope of the Nouveau Roman, and/or for fans of marketing hype.]
posted by jfuller at 7:22 PM on January 26, 2008


All I can say is that there's a difference between sex and violence.

Maybe there is a difference, but that doesn't mean you can't mix the two.
posted by Clay201 at 8:53 PM on January 26, 2008


"Since I was 12, I've always liked little girls, and I think lots of people are in the same situation. Love for the young -- little boys for the homosexuals and little girls for heterosexuals -- is something very widespread, but something easily mastered, something you don't act on, do you? But to think about it hurts no-one."

"These people who complain are perverts, obviously! They've read this stuff, then immediately erased the fact that it's a piece of literary writing, and they've created the fantasy in their own heads! At that point they become policemen against... who? Against themselves! These people should all be in prison! Because it's they who've put the scene together in their sick heads!"

Such trite thoughts, and such a heated defense for such dribble. It reminds me of Michael Haneke's fo0t-stompingly petulant defense of "Funny Games" (as mentioned by hincandenza). Maybe your book just sucks, duder. Also, as mentioned in the comments on momus's blog, no straight female pedos? How cliche and boring. Also, false and shallow. I don't think R-G here knows what he's writing (or talking) about. Maybe that's why only journalists and poseurs like cytherea (very articulate defenses, there, btw,) are buying it.

I guess this is like Answer Me or Whitehouse, where misogyny is cool because it's edgy?

I think it might be because you can say "Fuck you. you're a dick" to Jim Goad, to his face, (more or less,) and he won't get all butt-hurt and accuse you of being some bourgeois creature that only exists in his imagination. (He still might think you're an asshole.) Just a guess, anyway. His stuff isn't all more fartsy than artsy French establishment literature like R-G is.

As an aside, the uncut pages of the the book? Gimmick. Just more marketing for a "plotless" (well whoop-dee-shit) book of torture pron.
posted by Snyder at 9:10 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


tl;dr R-G interview: "No John, you are the demons."
posted by Snyder at 9:22 PM on January 26, 2008


Was anyone else amused to find that "in France, they have the Prix Sade, to reward 'works defying the moral or political order of society'?

While in Britain the annual "Bad Sex " award -it started as a joke, but it's gained a nice traction - turns the national spotlight on the most embarrassing filthy bits in new novels!

(I don't believe it truly captures the difference between the two countries - but it's a fun footnote.)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:22 PM on January 26, 2008


I hold this twit in the same low esteem I hold that fucktard of a director who feels a graphic movie about the kidnapping and torture of a family by white-gloved comic serial killers is somehow a bold artistic statement about... well, nothing except his own inner Jeffrey Dahmer.

Wow, you totally missed the point of that film. Wow. You lose.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:56 PM on January 26, 2008


Wow, you totally missed the point of that film. Wow. You lose.

I concur. However, the film in question nevertheless DOES SUCK. How can this be?!

it is a mystery

"Transgressive" art is sometimes wankery. Funny Games, I would argue, is wankery. If anything, the problem is that Michael Haneke is not enough in touch with his inner Jeffrey Dahmer -- which is to say, the film is entirely too conscious of itself as a film, and fails utterly as a visceral experience. In Funny Games, Haneke is interested in fucking with viewers' expectations re: the filmgoing experience, and never mind that the way he does it is as trite and juvenile as (in essence) breaking the fourth wall -- I'm sure there's a film student somewhere who thinks that characters talking to the camera and rewinding scenes is the height of brilliance, but for fuck's sake they did this shit in the Christian Slater epic Kuffs -- never mind all that, because what he's missing completely is that filmgoers don't really need to be reminded that they're watching a film. We know. Shitty movies constantly -- and not deliberately -- remind us that we're watching them. That whole "keep telling yourself...it's just a movie...just a movie"? Not necessary. What most filmgoers are looking for is the kind of movie that's so compelling you forget it's a movie. Haneke seems to be afflicted with the notion, common to academics, that film is so often an opiate that people need to be woken up to its hypnotic power. What horseshit. Most movies are so transparently movies that they have no real power over their audience at all; people watch them because they've got nothing better to do.

I think this is a digression...

Anyway, this seems to be a whole lot of controversy over a book no one here has read more than a few sentences out of. Kinda remarkable, that.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:21 PM on January 26, 2008 [4 favorites]


the film is entirely too conscious of itself as a film

It uses Brechtian conventions to remind the viewer it is a film, an entertainment. It has be to be "conscious of itself", if only to remind the audience to be conscious of itself watching the film — Haneke is all about film as fiction, and the audience trying to fool itself that it is living in a fiction. How else to shock a detached, Hostel-consuming audience into the stark reality and consequences of violence?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:27 PM on January 26, 2008


How else to shock a detached, Hostel-consuming audience into the stark reality and consequences of violence?

Do you really think it does that? I think it tries to make the audience aware of the film as fiction, sure, but I think this is about as necessary as making coffee drinkers aware that what they are drinking is in fact coffee. As to making people aware of the stark reality and consequences of violence? No. For one thing, we shouldn't need film for that; if we do, really, we're fucked. For another, I think -- sorry -- that something like Hostel is far more likely to make people aware of the horror and consequences of violence than is some art school exercise like Funny Games. My most vivid memory of seeing Hostel in the theater is not of the poor girl with her eye burned out, but of the HUGE high school wrestler looking dude a few rows down from me who saw her and bellowed, "OH MY FUCKIN' GOD!!" and then practically started hyperventilating. I'm pretty sure that guy's reaction to, say, the rewind scene in Funny Games would have been, "What...this is fucking bullshit!" (as was my reaction, actually).
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:39 PM on January 26, 2008


There is nothing in this book under discussion which leads me to believe...

You know I'm nuts about you, jokeefe, but you keep talking about this book as if you'd read it. You have not read it, and it surprises me that you are willing to pronounce so confidently upon a book you know only from a brief description. You might have felt the same about Lolita from reading outraged screeds fifty years ago. I understand that the description outrages you, and you might well feel the same about the book if you read it, but still, you might want to pull back a little.


Okay, agreed; because I trust your take on so many other things, I'll accept your take on this. I admit I find it difficult to approach this book on an intellectual level because the subject matter is so distressing; I read the excerpt and have little wish to read further, especially as the description of the book indicates that the rest is more of the same. I do have to say I doubt I would have ever been so upset with Lolita (the comparison in this case is shaky, I think, as Lolita is magnificent literature, and humane; I don't think this book is).

No one, attacking Sade in the 18th century, said "It's shocking but at least there's philosophy"; likewise with Burroughs, Henry Miller, and any number of scandalous writers. It's always exactly the priggish stance you're adopting here.

"Priggish"? Oy. Whatever. But I did want to note that, in fact, this is exactly wrong. Many contemporary writers and philosophers said exactly this about all these writers.
posted by jokeefe at 10:47 PM on January 26, 2008


Do you really think it does that?

I do, really. I think people who don't treat Hostel seriously are shocked by Funny Games. People who treat Hostel seriously are lost causes.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:52 PM on January 26, 2008


I do, really. I think people who don't treat Hostel seriously are shocked by Funny Games. People who treat Hostel seriously are lost causes.

I think it depends on what you mean by "seriously" -- I think people (and there are some!) who think Hostel is based on real events are indeed lost souls, and probably think reality TV isn't scripted, etc. -- but on the face of it, I really can't agree. A well-made horror film puts you in touch with your nerve endings; Funny Games puts you in touch with your inner film theorist. YMMV, as the net cliche goes. To me, Funny Games is about as far removed from anything like violence and its consequences in the real world as any film has ever been. It's a movie about movies, and how if you like them Michael Haneke's a whole lot smarter than you. I wasn't shocked by it; I was alternately bored with it and angry at it, and ultimately irritated with Haneke, who is in my opinion the film's real subject (the film's verdict: Michael Haneke? Pretty awesome).
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:08 PM on January 26, 2008


(...I did like Cache, though.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:10 PM on January 26, 2008


hincandenza: It's our growth and evolution in our social mores and moral state that we would be repulsed by de Sade or this wanna-be piker, where once torture was simply a fact of life. That's... progress, and it's that progress that people fought and died for, yes?

I'd like to say yes, but I don't believe that Progress, in the positive sense that you use the word, survived contact with the 20th century. It vanished in a cloud of chlorine and trench fire, in a flash of nuclear sunlight over Hiroshima.

I'd also bet that the acts described in 120 Days would be held as reprehensible in nearly any culture, from ancient Athens, to Maoist China, to Inquisition-era Europe. And yet we can observe that some of the cultures that would most abhor the fictional 120 Days have scribbled its like all over the pages of history. Why?

people who'd popularize donkey punching and anal gangbangs leading to prolapsed rectums are the same people who would go de Sade in a heartbeat, if given license.

But so do people who repress sexually imaginative literature. For example, have you ever seen the torture devices of church inquisitors? Sodomy machines that split victims in two? Bondage gear that breaks the body? It's very much the Id's playground, yet devised by a Superego, if you believe in those things. It existed not because of books, but in spite of them. People whose literature acknowledged a moral cosmos, and who believed in a sainthood composed of virgins and pacifists, somehow constructed the ground floor of Hell, and became its devils and tormentors. Again, why?

My best guess is: because they could. Opportunity seems to turn every human and institution pathological, and, given sufficient latitude and time, anything goes de Sade - not just the Rotten.com fanboys. And perhaps sex won't be the fixation - perhaps they'll sterilize the act of mass-murder with gas and fire, or work privileged intellectuals to death in rice fields, or torch the libraries and attempt to re-write the memory of mankind. But give any institution the power and opportunity to do any of these things, and they'll eventually get around to it.

I don't think cleaning up people's libraries and heads would help, even if we had any right to. I don't think the Dhammapada, or the Tao, or any noble idea, really, can stop an army in its tracks. I think the only way to forestall these sorts of atrocities is to cripple the powers of our institutions and leaders. One of those ways, I think, is to publish subversive literature. Go figure!
posted by kid ichorous at 2:14 AM on January 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


I do have to say I doubt I would have ever been so upset with Lolita (the comparison in this case is shaky, I think, as Lolita is magnificent literature, and humane; I don't think this book is).

But my point is that you've read Lolita, and you haven't read this. Try to imagine yourself back in the mid-'50s, aware that this "shocking," "controversial" novel has been published in Paris (ooh-la-la!); nobody you know has actually seen a copy, but everyone's seen columns trashing it as vile, perverted, and so on, with a snippet from a sex scene and some lurid descriptions of the plot. You might well have felt about Lolita as you feel about this: "I don't need to see the book, I know it's not something I want to experience."

Note that I'm not claiming this book is likely (or indeed has the slightest chance) of being a masterpiece like Lolita; I'm not even suggesting you give it the benefit of the doubt. I have no interest in reading it myself. I'm just saying it's always wise to bear in mind the limits of one's experience and adjust one's rhetoric accordingly. As I said, you were talking as if you had actually read the book and knew for a fact that it was vile and had no redeeming qualities. Not picking on you in particular, because there's a lot of that going on in this thread, but I know you're a sensible and well-read person and it was worth bringing up the point with you.
posted by languagehat at 6:46 AM on January 27, 2008


Interesting discussion, people. Glad we are not yet living on Daily Mail Island.

That introduction to Monkey.
posted by asok at 7:02 AM on January 27, 2008


Good thing he didn't say "sweater puppies."
posted by tkchrist at 7:06 AM on January 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


One of those ways, I think, is to publish subversive literature. Go figure!

Mein Kampf was subversive literature. Using the term literature loosely.

I don't think subversive or artistic anything stops humans from committing atrocities. Certainly not pornography. No matter how frigg'n arty it's dressed up to be.

Of course I'm feeling a bit cynical today since I just came back from the Mémorial de la Shoah a few minutes ago and am staying in an apartment a few blocks away that is a landmark for the Gestapo round up and deportation of Parisian Jews. Not feeling very charitable on the humanity front.
posted by tkchrist at 7:19 AM on January 27, 2008


ultimately irritated with Haneke, who is in my opinion the film's real subject (the film's verdict: Michael Haneke? Pretty awesome)

If Haneke voiced a play-by-play, DVD-like commentary over the film as we watch it, or if he had put himself into the film like Tarantino, I might be more inclined to agree.

Ironically, I thought he was a bit more self-satisfied with Cache, or at least with his explanation and motivations for it. I think he had to inject his ego, to make up for a weaker effort than Funny Games.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:48 AM on January 27, 2008


If Haneke voiced a play-by-play, DVD-like commentary over the film as we watch it, or if he had put himself into the film like Tarantino, I might be more inclined to agree.

Well, Tarantino's misguided efforts to make himself a supastah (and it's a testament to the quality of his films that his obnoxious presence doesn't ruin them, though it does generally turn whatever scene he's in into shit) are in a class of their own; other than maybe Madonna, I can't think of anyone in film today who is so absolutely blind to the fact that no one, ever, wants to see them onscreen and has the power to keep inserting themselves into films and actually goes ahead and does it. Maybe Jessica Simpson. But other than that.

With Haneke, it's a little different -- I read a film drawing attention to itself as a film as, essentially, a director hamming it up. I know he has all kinds of high-minded justifications for what he's doing in Funny Games, but I don't buy it: all I see is a guy who can't resist stopping the action to wave his arms and go, "Look'a me! Look'a me!" I think Cache works better in large part because Haneke lets his film be a story, not an essay; if it fails at all, it's in its ending, which I think is definitely way too deliberately nebulous.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:12 AM on January 27, 2008


"Interesting discussion, people. Glad we are not yet living on Daily Mail Island."

Agree, asok.

(Though I almost relish the vein-popping Mail reaction! I wonder who'd they'd pick to be the trendy-yet-deeply-disgusted voice of the literary establishment- probably not Will Self.)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:28 AM on January 27, 2008


I think Cache works better in large part because Haneke lets his film be a story, not an essay

To me, it's not clear that Cache even has a story, or at least any one particular story. Everything seems based on characters' memories, which are never explained in any detail. Videotapes come from nowhere. The film shows people reacting to each other based on past events to which we're never privy, and seems to showcase the drama of characters' reactions to the exclusion of the narrative. There's a bit of shocking, quixotic violence that's never clarified, instead glossed over to set up drama between the main character and the opposite's son, which appears to go nowhere. The oblique ending is only one last raspberry blown at the audience.

It's clear there are some political and social ideas touched upon (relationships between French and Algerians, class and economic status, banality of cultural intelligensia, etc.) but these misty thoughts seem like window dressing and are never really given much consideration, evaporating quickly enough once the film's done.

Perhaps the point of Cache is not to have any coherent point. Everything about the film is a lie, in Haneke's mind, so the narrative has to be something ungraspable, unsolvable. As an audience member, I think the film (as a "Film", or "entertainment") fails, but perhaps failure is exactly what he is after. Nonetheless, as Cache dragged on, I kept getting the sense that Haneke was showing me just a little more of his ass, perhaps, instead of showing me the story he wanted to tell.

On the other hand, I am both titillated and horrified by Funny Games — just as intended. I'm reminded of the cartoonish nature of early scenes of A Clockwork Orange, for example where Kubrick's Alex and his droogs fight Billy Bob in the broken-down opera house, as a naked woman struggles and runs away. It's sex and violence — we shouldn't enjoy it, but it is filmed in such a way that it is meant to be "all good fun": Kubrick taps into our base nature to be captivated by rank violence, all the while we "tsk-tsk" ourselves publicly, never ever admitting that we were somewhat absorbed by what we were seeing. The difference is that Haneke breaks the fourth wall and asks the audience to look at itself for just a moment, while Kubrick is a bit more cynical and lets you sit back and watch.

Film might be a lie, but that's why I'm going to the theatre. The "fun" of Funny Games is that I shouldn't be entertained, but I am. It is, likewise, the horror. The duality of it, the classical music as the story begins, head-butted by heavy metal over the opening credits — and the lingering dread for having sat through it — it's all part and parcel of what makes it, for me, an unforgettable and classic film.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:24 AM on January 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think the only way to forestall these sorts of atrocities is to cripple the powers of our institutions and leaders. One of those ways, I think, is to publish subversive literature.

"What terrorists gain, novelists lose. The degree to which they influence mass consciousness is the extent of our decline as shapers of sensibility and thought. The danger they represent equals our own failure to be dangerous." - Don DeLillo, Mao II
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:51 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


So, having seen neither, but remembering seeing trailers for Cache, it sounds like Cache is the one to see.
posted by klangklangston at 10:12 AM on January 27, 2008


It's clear there are some political and social ideas touched upon (relationships between French and Algerians, class and economic status, banality of cultural intelligensia, etc.) but these misty thoughts seem like window dressing and are never really given much consideration, evaporating quickly enough once the film's done.

I agree that these ideas aren't dwelled upon, but I don't think they have to be -- they're presented, and that's enough. The commentary's implicit. And nuanced, even: I don't think we're meant to sympathize or identify with the rather flat yuppie couple of Funny Games at all -- they're barely even characters -- but I do think Haneke has some sympathy for the protagonist of Cache, perhaps because Haneke himself is less the provocateur that he'd clearly like us to see him as than he is an artifact of the bourgeoisie himself, and knows it. At the same time, though, the guy (the protagonist, I mean) is sort of a self-absorbed douche, and he and his surroundings stand in such sharp contrast to his near-brother's that I almost feel like expounding on this would have been gilding the lily. You look at these guys and their respective lives and there's not much else to say.

Perhaps the point of Cache is not to have any coherent point. Everything about the film is a lie, in Haneke's mind, so the narrative has to be something ungraspable, unsolvable. As an audience member, I think the film (as a "Film", or "entertainment") fails, but perhaps failure is exactly what he is after. Nonetheless, as Cache dragged on, I kept getting the sense that Haneke was showing me just a little more of his ass, perhaps, instead of showing me the story he wanted to tell.

I don't know that Cache is as incoherent as all of that. There are huge, frustrating gaps in the story -- more than there should have been -- but I think the major points are addressed. We do finally know where the tapes are coming from, even if we don't know why exactly all of this has been going on. It does feel like the film fizzles more than it ends, and we don't get the payoffs we frankly deserve by the time it's over (a problem it shares with the much better but still frustrating No Country for Old Men, mentioned above), but at least we're frustrated because the film has made us interested in these answers, these epiphanies. If Haneke is up to the same tricks here as in Funny Games, he's if nothing else more successful because he's made a film that functions as a film before pulling the rug out from under the audience. Funny Games, to me, does not -- as entertainment, it makes the fatal mistake of not being entertaining.

On the other hand, I am both titillated and horrified by Funny Games — just as intended. I'm reminded of the cartoonish nature of early scenes of A Clockwork Orange, for example where Kubrick's Alex and his droogs fight Billy Bob in the broken-down opera house, as a naked woman struggles and runs away. It's sex and violence — we shouldn't enjoy it, but it is filmed in such a way that it is meant to be "all good fun": Kubrick taps into our base nature to be captivated by rank violence, all the while we "tsk-tsk" ourselves publicly, never ever admitting that we were somewhat absorbed by what we were seeing. The difference is that Haneke breaks the fourth wall and asks the audience to look at itself for just a moment, while Kubrick is a bit more cynical and lets you sit back and watch.

I think the difference here -- other than Michael Haneke isn't a tenth of Kubrick -- is that Kubrick films the opera house scene as slapstick. We don't take it seriously until, as the film progresses, we kind of do, and start to acknowledge how horrible Alex and co. really are. By contrast, Haneke's boys in Funny Games seem to regard themselves as Alex and his droogs, but their victims aren't playing right. So this is never titillating; you're watching a pair of bland psychos torment a family of bland, flat characters, without either one serving as an identification point for the viewer. I guess it's successfully sadistic, but that's not an itch I need to scratch particularly, so to me it's not very interesting. You get caught up in Alex's adventures because, although they're horrible, you can't help but get a contact high, and the consequences (at first) seem about as real as what you'd get out of a Looney Tunes cartoon.

Film might be a lie, but that's why I'm going to the theatre. The "fun" of Funny Games is that I shouldn't be entertained, but I am. It is, likewise, the horror. The duality of it, the classical music as the story begins, head-butted by heavy metal over the opening credits — and the lingering dread for having sat through it — it's all part and parcel of what makes it, for me, an unforgettable and classic film.

Again, that fiction itself is a lie doesn't strike me as any great revelation, and a magician who goes on stage and spends an hour telling the audience that magic's all fake doesn't strike me as much of a magician. The trick is to make people forget it's a lie. And it's funny you bring up the (generic) heavy metal over the opening credits -- that was the exact moment I began to suspect I would hate this movie, because it seemed like such a trite way of, I dunno, damning the man, or whatever. Shocking just to be shocking, only not very shocking at all; I figure the average cynical teenager would see that as an old man trying to be cool, personally. It struck me as the work of a poseur.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:32 AM on January 27, 2008


Although Burroughs' ejaculating hanging boys etc. never bothered me, I picked a copy of Poppy Z. Brite's stuff and when I got to the part about a guy peeling the skin off of a tied-up acid-dosed victim, I just took the book into the alley dumpster. I think of myself as totally open-minded, and Brite and Robbe-Grillet can write anything they want and anyone should be able to buy their books anywhere...but I just finished Shirley Hazzard's The Great Fire this morning and I relish the bittersweet effect of the book. I don't think I'd be doing a lot of relishing after Robbe-Grillet's experimentation. But that's just me...and most readers.
posted by kozad at 12:29 PM on January 27, 2008


Sitting on a park bench --
eyeing ittle girls with bad intent.
Snot running down his nose --
greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes.
Drying in the cold sun --
Watching as the frilly panties run.
Feeling like a dead duck --
spitting out pieces of his broken luck.*
posted by ericb at 1:29 PM on January 27, 2008


I do think Haneke has some sympathy for the protagonist of Cache, perhaps because Haneke himself is less the provocateur that he'd clearly like us to see him as than he is an artifact of the bourgeoisie himself, and knows it.

I do see the director putting himself in the protagonist's place. I would argue, however, that this sort of thing reinforces Cache being less about telling a particular story, than about putting Haneke on-screen. If there is a narrative being developed, the director's self-flagellation detracts from the core of the story.

I think the difference here -- other than Michael Haneke isn't a tenth of Kubrick -- is that Kubrick films the opera house scene as slapstick.

Hopefully I wasn't trying to make it sound like Haneke and Kubrick are equals as filmmakers. That's clearly not true, and I'm sure Haneke would agree.

I would, however, argue that the portrayal of the "bad guys" in Funny Games is a slapstick or comedy of a kind — even if a very dry, sarcastic, and tense form of slapstick — where their violent dialogue, charisma and acts are used to titillate ("Ciao, bella.") or otherwise get the audience to empathize with them, to "play along" with the "funny games": Will the family make it? Or do we really want Peter and Paul to win? There are more games being played than what are on screen.

As an aside, regarding the difference between fiction and reality, I think we have a hard time making sense of true evil. Perhaps because evil is motivated by such a strong irrational bent. I wonder if we have an instinctual need to make "cartoon" figures from our bad guys, to otherwise reduce them into an idea we can wrap our minds around, to be able to recognize and avoid monsters.

This is why figures like Adolf Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, Alex DeLarge, Hannibal Lecter, etc. are less real/unreal entities than images or abstract representations of seductive evil. It matters less that they are real or fake, than that we build cultural myths around them. (That's not to say that Haneke's psychotic Peter and Paul are mythic entities of evil on the scale of Hitler, Dahmer, DeLarge and Lecter — but, instead, that our coping mechanisms kick in for trying to understand them and avoid their seduction.)

On another level, we read books, play video games and watch movies to enter fantasy worlds, and that can include fantasizing about being the sadist antagonists of a film like this. I think this bears mentioning.

You get caught up in Alex's adventures because, although they're horrible, you can't help but get a contact high, and the consequences (at first) seem about as real as what you'd get out of a Looney Tunes cartoon.

On some level, I think that Peter and Paul are portrayed in a similarly cartoonish, video-game-like, unreal light.

What is unique about Funny Games as a film about crazed murderers is that we don't get much chance to stay comfortable with their sadist behavior — which is quite a change from the usual, empathetic Hollywood portrayal of killers. We don't get to disassociate from what is on the screen, as much as we do, say, with watching Alex DeLarge or Hannibal Lecter do their comedic schtick. They are monsters but we laugh along with Alex and Hannibal.

On the other hand, I would argue, we are "forced" by Haneke's directorial eye to more closely associate with Peter and Paul through the violent acts they commit (which take place off-screen, and are not really the focus) and that this (justifiably) makes the audience uncomfortable.

Rather than Brechtian conventions being used here as a cheap cinematic trick, I think it breaks conventions in that the usual moviegoer's seduction with evil breaks down at that point (if it hasn't already). For the moral core of the movie, for the story the director wants to tell, I think that this is important. Returning to A Clockwork Orange, at the end Alex DeLarge is "cured, alright" — and we (as Kubrick films the metaphorical Victorian-clothed audience standing around Alex) smile and applaud him while the Beethoven plays and he's happily boinking away at a young devotchka.

We're probably not as empathetic with Peter and Paul as we are with Alex, at the end of each respective film.

Whatever other faults he has, Haneke has a pretty strong moral streak in his work and doesn't want to let us off the hook, the way Kubrick does with our sharing in the enjoyment of Alex's pyrrhic victory. I can see how this morality play is off-putting for some.

Again, that fiction itself is a lie doesn't strike me as any great revelation, and a magician who goes on stage and spends an hour telling the audience that magic's all fake doesn't strike me as much of a magician.

It isn't that "fiction is a lie" isn't groundbreaking, so much that we seem to easily lose ourselves in the myths we create, to the point that truth and falsehood blur. When we put stock in the "truth" of a single photograph we see in the newspaper, let alone 24 a second in, say, the footage captured by the mysterious nonentity in Cache, it is sometimes worthwhile to pull back and see how we're manipulated, and how we manipulate ourselves, to deciding what's true and how we should feel about it emotionally.

As an aside, Penn and Teller are magicians who occasionally provide a glance behind the curtains and I'd argue are still captivating in that capacity.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:29 PM on January 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


I do see the director putting himself in the protagonist's place. I would argue, however, that this sort of thing reinforces Cache being less about telling a particular story, than about putting Haneke on-screen. If there is a narrative being developed, the director's self-flagellation detracts from the core of the story.

Hmmmmm...I dunno. It seems to me that the most honest stories (I guess I should say "honest-seeming," right?) tend to be personal. And it's not as though the protagonist of Cache is exactly Haneke's mary sue or anything...I think Haneke is just drawing on his own misgivings re: being part of the privileged class for which he seems to have little affection, maybe even questioning his own worth as an artist (or, to be exact, questioning the worth of the arts), but by placing a human face on this I think he succeeds where he fails with the cardboard characters of Funny Games.

As an aside, regarding the difference between fiction and reality, I think we have a hard time making sense of true evil. Perhaps because evil is motivated by such a strong irrational bent. I wonder if we have an instinctual need to make "cartoon" figures from our bad guys, to otherwise reduce them into an idea we can wrap our minds around, to be able to recognize and avoid monsters.

I think this is true, but only to an extent. The problem is that most of the really evil people we can name come across in real life as either cartoon characters or ciphers. I remember years and years ago seeing an interview with Charles Manson (conducted, surrealistically enough, by Ron Reagan, Jr., who at that time had a late-night talk show) that was mostly made up of Manson rolling his eyes, mugging for the camera, and saying stuff like (paraphrasing), "I've eaten crap, I've eaten garbage...you can't kill me, I'm already dead!" And then you have the less theatrical ones, who either say nothing or speak in a flattened affect. In neither case do these people come across as people. I figure this is because people are like this are generally so estranged from humanity that they can't really function in any normal way -- either they're larger than life, or they shy away from it entirely. So, in creating fiction, what do you do with that? Hell, what do you with it in real life? Either these are people who are deeply incapable of expressing what's going on with them in any meaningful way or there's just...well...no there there. I think it's a little of both, myself. But to get back to it, I don't think you can create characters like this who don't lack that essential estrangement from humanity and have them play at all realistically. (That said, keeping a character like that realistic seems hard...Hannibal Lecter, for instance, is practically a cannibalistic superhero at this point.)

On another level, we read books, play video games and watch movies to enter fantasy worlds, and that can include fantasizing about being the sadist antagonists of a film like this. I think this bears mentioning.

Yeah, this is a whole issue that goes back at least as far as killer POV shots in slasher movies from the '80s, and I guess I'm not sure what to do with it, because I can honestly say that I don't identify with characters who torture innocent people. I do, however, enjoy watching "bad guys" get the shit beaten out of them. Sooooo...same urge? Probably. That I expect more of us delight in watching the hero wail on the villain than the reverse may say something wonderful about humanity as a whole and its desire for justice, or it may just mean that we get uncomfortable identifying with creepy people, because it might mean we're secretly creeps. I have a feeling the answer is...uh...complex.

Returning to A Clockwork Orange, at the end Alex DeLarge is "cured, alright" — and we (as Kubrick films the metaphorical Victorian-clothed audience standing around Alex) smile and applaud him while the Beethoven plays and he's happily boinking away at a young devotchka.

We're probably not as empathetic with Peter and Paul as we are with Alex, at the end of each respective film.


Oh, definitely. But I think it's important to note that we're on Alex's side by the end because Kubrick has painted him as more sinned against than sinning -- hell, maybe we even want to see him inflict some ultraviolence on his society, given the hell it's put him through, until we take a step back. As with Hannibal Lecter, Alex is enough larger than life and so fun and charismatic that it's easy to forget what he actually is. I'm not sure this means we've been let off the hook, though; just that the film won't make that judgment for us.

And yeah, I so knew I was gonna get called out on Penn and Teller. Well, okay, but that's different, dammit!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:27 PM on January 27, 2008


Yes, I'm titillated by the same things that some killers are. I enjoy trying to imagine what leads to horrible acts. Lock up your kids.
posted by klangklangston

Less labor intensive to lock you up.
posted by semmi at 4:37 PM on January 27, 2008


Less labor intensive to lock you up.

Uh, seriously? We're really just going to go ahead with thought-crime?
posted by 235w103 at 5:29 PM on January 27, 2008


> you were talking as if you had actually read the book and knew for a fact that it was vile and had no redeeming qualities.

languagehat, it's not as if jokeefe is judging in a vacuum. There's not the least doubt that the theme of the item we're discussing is kiddie pr0n, including kiddie torture pr0n, unless the Grauniad and L'Express -- une série de scènes de barbarie nauséeuses difficilement descriptibles, dignes de Sade ou de Restif de la Bretonne -- and others are just lying, which seems unlikely since they would be fact-checked about it at once by thousands. That's one relevant thing we know. And we know (only too well) Robbe-Grillet's previous work, the, uh, novels being especially pertinent (but stuff like his collaborations with--I am not making this up--David Hamilton, whose output [note the romantic Vaseline-on-the-lens soft focus on the butt shots, just like Maxim] is aesthetically on all fours with those Keane paintings of tiny people with enormous eyes--those weigh in the balance also.) Robbe-Grillet's previous work is another relevant thing we know.

Now consider the immense number of choices and judgements we're called upon to make in our lives, and the microscopic shortness of those lives compared to the time it would take to collect and weigh really complete evidence for each judgement. It just is the case that most of them, even the life-critical ones, are somewhere between scantily considered and flat out arbitrary. So neither you nor anyone else who isn't immortal needs to claim they hold all their judgements in abeyance until they can be thoroughly explored and considered. The evidential support for our writing Un Roman Sentimental off as repelant unk-jay no different from a plain-wrapper kiddie-torture-pr0n book by Danielle Steel, just on the basis of what we do already know about it and without having studied the text in detail, is stronger than what supports most of our judgements. And, considering how little we're likely to lose by being wrong, it is entirely adequate.

If we're mistaken and the man actually has made astonishing leaps in skill and profundity late in life and the book actually is a masterpiece on the order of Pale Fire... tph fnff, sorry, had an attack of the giggles there... we'll certainly hear about it. The question can be revisited. In the mean time I'm off to make a much more important determination, namely whether that tuna salad from day before yesterday is dangerous yet. To anyone considering a really close examination of Un Roman Sentimental, "hallucinatory clarity" and all, no Vaseline soft focus for Alain----I say bon appétit. I'll save you some moribund tuna salad, which most of you will like better.
posted by jfuller at 6:43 PM on January 27, 2008


languagehat, it's not as if jokeefe is judging in a vacuum.

Of course not, and I didn't think or say she was. I'm not sure if you didn't read me carefully or I didn't express myself clearly, but I'll give it one more try: I'm reasonably sure the book is crap for all the reasons you say, and I would certainly not urge anyone to read it "to be fair" or say that they shouldn't say anything about it unless they'd read it. All I'm saying is that there's a difference between assuming a book (or whatever) is crap, for various excellent reasons, and saying "This book (or whatever) is crap" as confidently as if one had read it. I don't like the latter, tempting as it is; too many fine works of art have been attacked that way (which is why I brought up the classic case of Lolita). Once again, I am not saying this is a worthwhile book (let alone comparable to Lolita); I'm just saying when we discuss these things we should be clear about the evidence we're going by.
posted by languagehat at 6:02 AM on January 28, 2008


"The evidential support for our writing Un Roman Sentimental off as repelant unk-jay no different from a plain-wrapper kiddie-torture-pr0n book by Danielle Steel, just on the basis of what we do already know about it and without having studied the text in detail, is stronger than what supports most of our judgements. And, considering how little we're likely to lose by being wrong, it is entirely adequate."

Jfuller

You argue so well.

I am entirely with you in spirit. I wouldn't even want dinner with someone who professed any enthusiasm for reading the damn book.

However misplaced it is, the author does however have some literary standing.

Which - for me - very, very slightly damages the "evidential support" you describe.

(I've been caught out before - because I'm a squeamish reader - deciding I had absolutely no interest whatsoever in ever trying Irvine Welsh's Filth. I'd seen extracts, and they made me shudder. Then I picked up the novel one day...).
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:44 AM on January 28, 2008


The free speech absolutist and lover of precise, hallucinatory, perfect prose agrees with l-hat. The person who is squicked out so easily that I couldn't watch Hostel if there was a gun to my head is disturbed. The cynic in me smells a dead rat, no matter how perfumed it is with pungent theories and clever defenses. The uncle who loves his nieces and nephews with all his heart wants to take that conch shell and smash it upside R-G's dotty old head.

(and the mefite in me thinks that y'all are a clever bunch people that never cease to amaze:)
posted by vronsky at 12:52 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


As much as it is a weird thread to note this, Alain Robbe-Grillet has passed away.
posted by Kattullus at 9:33 AM on February 18, 2008


I FPP'd it.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 11:18 AM on February 18, 2008


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