-ages of women & men: fashionable taboo & diabolical totem, a split between hairs

– Jan Saudek, The Morning, 1990 [link]

It has often been noted how a Brazilian makes a man or woman look like a child. See, for example, Bernardo Bertolucci’s underrated film The Dreamers (2003), in which a triadic sexual relationship, brother, sister, male friend, and its shifting emotional and erotic dynamics, explicitly provides the spectacle we watch while the revolution is going on in the street, out the window. The background is May ’68. The foreground action takes place in a labyrinthine Parisian apartment belonging to the parents of brother and sister: the size of the apartment, its furnishings, particularly the soft-furnishings (and comfort) both counterpoint the hard sex (and the cobbles being thrown around outside, cars set alight, etc., the violence) and point to a class difference between the male guest and the siblings. Sexual desire, or sheer eros, is the medium, the film seems to say, turning to flows, liquefying the barriers of gender, class and generation, or adulthood, and breaking down their taboos, up to the very limit of incestuous desire.

The Dreamers, dir. Bertolucci, 2003

There is a scene in which the parents, overdetermined as adults, for the fact that adulthood here is in question – and tends to drift, redistributed and reconcatenating, reterritorializing all the more fiercely for it, along lines of class, material (furnishings) and power (of ownership, and therefore, responsibility) – visit the apartment. Despite the expectations of the audience, they are not here to check up or place a check on the adult, in the sense of R-rated, behaviour of their children. They have forgotten something trivial, necessarily, have returned from their bourgeois holiday, having left the kids at home, to retrieve it. Paris is the super-sized apartment in which the kids have been left at home, apparently, by adults, free of the kids, who are having sex outside the city, on holiday, where it can have no political implications, like dissolving barriers, by literalizing them as barricades. These reversals, I would think, between symbolic and actual, literal and imaginary, offer the dream logic of the title’s dreamers.

– Jan Saudek, Oh, Those Fabulous F. Sisters! 1983

There is another scene where the sister approaches the male friend in an enormous bathroom brandishing a razor. It may appear she is intent on emasculation, which would explain the brother’s complicity: to render his unacknowledged rival impotent. Potency is at issue, however, but only symbolically. Brother and sister conspire to shave the male friends pubic hair. The friend protests, and his protest has a political edge. He says, ‘You want to turn me back into a child. You want me to be a child.’ Child rings with the implication that the brother and sister from their shared privileged background are used to getting their own way, used to turning those below them in the social strata into children, mere instruments in their incestuous game. So the upper-class is incestuous. This is a conventional reading. But in the dream of the film, the incest is out: the brother masturbates while thinking of his sister. Eros is removing the stoppage, the block that would deny him even this. Up to the point or degree of incest.

– Jan Saudek, Parabellum, 9 mm, 1983

The protest that they want to make him look like a child has this political meaning and also invokes another prohibition, that of socalled pedophilia. In the film, nude and covered with soap and prepared for his shave, he is not like the patient in a hospital bed, or the client at the beautician’s, acquiescent in his rasage, his infantomorphosis. He squirms out of the hold of brother and sister. And something tells me that they let him get away. Because they don’t want him to be turned into a child; they don’t want to be responsible for this; as if it would be counter-productive to their desire. Keeping him suspended between adulthood and childhood, yet with some hair between his legs, suits all their purposes much better than were he to perceive having been shaved as being made a child. In other words, were they to make him a child, they would in their turn be made to see themselves as children. There is a higher principle at work than that prohibiting incest. It is that which, as Foucault says, allows the continuance of the incitement to desire. To shave him would be to place a block on desire.

– Jan Saudek, Kissing the Tears Away, 1967

This is not the case with adult adults, who have this leeway… to… But what am I saying? A brief look at the pages of a beautician’s appointment book will show that she (usually) spends most of her time (currently, Auckland suburbs) between the legs of other women, removing hair. A quick consultation with a teenager will provide you with the information that it is not at all uncommon for girls who are not even sexually active – therefore preventing the charge that they are somehow forced by men – to shave down there. The Wikipedia entry goes into some detail, to providing an educational video, about the process and history of the Brazilian. One of its better entries. We read that in the 15th Century, Pêro Vaz de Caminha gave this report of the practice of global pubic depilation: “…suas vergonhas tão altas e tão çarradinhas e tão limpas das cabeleiras que de as nós muito bem olharmos não tínhamos nenhuma vergonha” (“their private parts were so exposed, so healthy and so hairless, that looking upon them we felt no shame”). However the source for this is cited as M. Elizabeth Ginway’s Brazilian Science Fiction. [link] If this is fact, we can imagine Pêro Vaz de Caminha feeling the same way about children, that their private parts were so exposed, so healthy and hairless, that looking upon them he felt no shame. Were he to mark his attention to such matters in this way amid today’s paranoia regarding children and sex he would be held up for martyrdom… by media.

– Marcel Duchamp

As usual, Marcel Duchamp is way ahead of us. In his L.H.O.O.Q. – a little joke between friends -, Mona’s merkin has migrated to her visage. He ostensibly harboured a horror for the genitally hirsute, shown, among other givens, in his Étant donnés.

– part view, Marcel Duchamp

It seems it is in the atmosphere, now, Marcel’s horror. Hairy has become a fetish category, a matter for the specialist. Common sense, you might say: of course we should want to look on the genitalia of women – and men – without shame; we should want them to be so exposed, so healthy and hairless … that they resemble children, children’s private parts, which we are so ashamed of them having that we have used dolls to demonstrate where one ought not be touched.

– famous merkin-wearer, Lucy Lawless, as Lucretia in Spartacus, is not amused

It would be easy to contend that the erotic frisson first engendered by an encounter with the razed pubis has a lot to do with the proximity of the perverse. It’s almost like a child’s. So smooth.

In hair, you know, may collect all sorts of bacteria. To remove it offers an hygienic advantage, you see. In addition to giving all the excitement without the transgression of actually having sex as a child or with a child. Albeit that the dirtiness of children may indeed constitute their attraction, a transgenerational meme transmitted from commercial exploitation of child workers in, for example, Dickensian London, and the industrialising East today. (See Said’s Orientalism.)

But there again, we get into the area of sentimental pornography, as exemplified recently by the popular success, of The Lovely Bones, a success so hyperbolic, one can only hope something else is going on.

– Judy Fox, Sphinx, 1990 (Sphinx/Sphynx is another name for the hairless style, seen here, which being less a matter of pictorial resemblance, is a matter of literal resemblance, of the word-play on hairless pussy, the feline variety being called Sphinx/Sphynx, hence also Hollywood, a cognate)