Editorial for the Cahiers du Cinéma, July-August 2015 - n.713
Three years ago we dedicated our Summer
issue to eroticism, with an aim to be joyous but not shy away from theory. Why
return to it? Well, in the cinema of recent years eroticism has suffered. Most
films exclude it out of puritanism and flesh deserts the cinema just as it
invades the computer screen. Some recent films have addressed the question of
sex in a spectacular manner, but as if it were a problem – Blue is the Warmest Colour, Nymphomaniac and The Smell of Us spring to mind. Now this year, Fifty Shades of Grey and Love from Gaspar Noé have made a cheap attraction of sex, a
caricature of eroticism.
Let’s explore ‘eroticism’ in its most
literal definition. Eroticism describes an emotion. One of today’s challenges
is to stop talking about films as if they were detached from us, from
ourselves, and to instead focus on specifying the emotions we feel as we watch.
Eroticism is not the opposite of pornography, but rather pornography denotes
only an extension of the field of visibility and not a range of emotions.
Indeed, one can feel troubled or aroused by any film. The eruption of eroticism
in the pornographic world is always ‘the living projected onto the mechanical’
– to reverse Bergson’s definition of comedy – a gesture shifts, disturbs,
deviates the mechanical and emotion appears. Eroticism actually conforms to the
same principles as aesthetics. It is born out of a kind of beauty, whatever it
may be - since beauty is to be found everywhere - but a troubling, exciting
beauty, which arouses desire. The erotic effect can be found in the glow of
skin, the movement of clothing, light touching a body, the revelation of a
beauty spot, the contact of two bodies, the reflection of sweat, a blush. Often
it is the spectacle of agitation itself that provokes arousal. The erotic
effect is an intensity signalling the imminent experience of a sensation.
Eroticism is not a state, it passes like a breeze and raises in the air the
ghost of touch.
Eroticism involves a gesture and thus a
humanity. Nudity is not enough. To feel eroticism in a film is to judge the
quality of a gesture. On the screen a hand stretching under the impulse of lust
or framing targeting the most burning point of intensity in the shot can excite
our own desire. The agitation is never born out of the vulgarity of the
gesture. The viewer faces obscenity when she is invited to share the complicit
glance of the director on the actress - as if being tapped on the shoulder and
told ‘she’s pretty, isn’t she? You were dreaming of seeing her, right?’ The
problem is not so much the voyeurism, which can sometimes belong to the erotic
apparatus, but the machismo and the complicity between pals who show each other
a body. In Love Lasts Three Years, Frédéric Beigbeder turns Louise Bourgoin
towards us to show her naked - evoking a cover for Lui (French Playboy), a
magazine which Beigbeder in reality would buy a few months later – making an
image on glossy paper for male viewers. Here at the Cahiers, we prefer more
glorious gestures and living bodies subjected to desire. Moreover eroticism
involves us at the physical level, beyond simple superficial beauty. By
intervening in the spaces of encounters and montage, real eroticism assumes an
intelligence which makes our understanding overflow and awakens our
imagination. A pictorial, academic nude is un-eroticised. The gesture enables
the exploration of the body, its rendering as sublime. Eroticism can only ever
This time we draw on examples of
eroticism in the history of cinema, avoiding canonical texts to create a
collection. Many come from the erotic revolution of the 1970s, our era is too
lacking in politics to invent a new eroticism – although perhaps Femen provide
a glimmer of hope for it – and there certainly can be no new eroticism without
new political thinking. Eroticism is doubly subversive. It creates scandalous
bodies and attitudes that explode the established order, and returns sensuality
to the foreground. To be touched, moved or troubled by the posture of a body
involves a certain kind of love in the look. In this time of intimidation,
neutralisation and perpetual crisis, any eulogy to pleasure, both erotic and
aesthetic, is worth making.
“We ought never to forget that in spite of the bliss love promises its first effect is one of turmoil and distress. Passion fulfilled itself provokes such violent agitation that the happiness involved, before being a happiness to be enjoyed, is so great as to be more like its opposite, suffering. Its essence is to substitute for their persistent discontinuity a miraculous continuity between two beings. Yet this continuity is chiefly to be felt in the anguish of desire, when it is still inaccessible, still an impotent, quivering yearning. A tranquil feeling of secure happiness can only mean the calm which follows the long storm of suffering, for it is more likely that lovers will not meet in such timeless fusion than that they will; the chances are most often against their contemplating in speechless wonder the continuity that unites them.”
Georges Bataille, Eroticism: Death and Sensuality (1957)
Hey dude, it's hot out! Go out without shirt! It's cool.
Hey dude, you're gay! How gross!!
Black guys are the best to
*Guy going through puberty feels embarrassed* don't worry it's all part of life.
Society towards women:
I don't care how hot it is BURN. *takes off shirt anyway* omigod what is that!?! That's the nastiest thing I've ever seen in my LIFE. Put them away!! -or- Is she not wearing a BRA. Her nipples, I can see them. SLUT. WHORE.
*man says to girl*you're a lesbian? Maybe we could "hang out" sometime *wink wink*
Dark black women are gross. Caramels are so much better.
*girl going through puberty feel embarrassed* Well you should be! That's disgusting!! You bleed every month to prepare yourself for bringing children in the world!?! how DISGUSTING! You should be ashamed of yourself.
Beyoncé’s personal stake in feminism and status as a feminist icon has been consistently complicated by her image as a sex symbol. Critics from Bill O’Reilly to Annie Lennox have criticized the sexuality within her image: for O’Reilly and his ilk, she’s a bad influence on young girls; for Lennox, her sexiness is incompatible with any message of feminism, empowerment, or agency… and she’s a bad influence on young girls. “Twerking isn’t feminism,” Lennox said in an October 2014 interview with NPR. “[But],” Lennox said, “I’m coming from a perspective of a woman that’s had children.” Beyonce’s body endangers the youth of America: something that conservatives and liberals alike seem to agree on. Specifically, people seem to have trouble with Beyoncé’s explicit use and exploitation of eroticism. Her dancing is controversial. Her wardrobe is problematic. Somehow, folks get stuck on this idea that a woman who says she’s a feminist can’t be a feminist because she likes dancing in lingerie. Let’s unpack that.
This is where “erotic nature” comes in. Not only did Bataille believe that everything relates to the working of desire and death in sexuality, but he also believed that poetry was the product of “hate” (and other extreme emotions), just as erotic pleasure leads to self-annihilation. Take this line-of-thought, from Eroticism: Death and Sensuality:
The domain of the eroticism is the domain of violence, of violation… a violation bordering on death, bordering on murder? … The whole business of eroticism is to strike at the innermost core of the living being, so that the heart still stands.
MARK SPITZER The Collected Poems of Georges Bataille, Dufour, p. xiv