Of his erection under a spermy milky way, the narrator ponders that death would replace personal vision with ‘the pure stars, fully unrelated to any external gazes and realising in a cold state, without human delays or detours, something that strikes me as the goal of my sexual licentiousness: a geometric incandescence (among other things, the coinciding point of life and death, being and nothingness); perfectly fulgurating.’ Well, we are reminded that fiction does not repeat reality but refers to other fictions. Or ficciones, a sort of algebra and fire going on between the word and the urge.
It is Susan Sontag who reminds us that pornography cannot be parodied, and as pornography is so intimately connected with religious ecstasies in masochistic madness attempting to transgress merely conventional human limits, neither, one assumes, can mysticism be parodies: it is already hilarious and absurd this attempt to transgress language. (In so far as there is a representative aspect of words, the religious fumblings and foreplay of sexual adventures, carefully packaged and safe, like warm simulacra of testes and cunt, they can show by mere accounting the huge commercial success of industries which swell their coffers on selling icons, images, superstitious junk to a market in the terminal stages of desperation, and characterised by dread and an utter lack of faith).
The story is an eye-opener and many a reader will shed tears of laughter. I do believe that the Sontag essay and the briefer Barthes analysis add much to what pleasures can be had from turning back and starting again (as we always do). Barthes’ lucid mapping of the eye/egg, tear/wet does lead brilliantly to his notion that the story itself is structured so as to be described as a sphere (egg, eye) of metaphors that run into each other and signify not much apart from their shape, i.e. their status as signifiers: too, his neat description of the syntagmatic and paradigmatic interweavings does evoke a delicacy of touch such as a jeweller may display in making a beautiful chain, except that in the story the chain has no links.
Sontag’s essay fits well with Barthes’ but is less concentrated on the Bataille text; rather it very succinctly runs through possible literary attitudes, moral attitudes, rescues pornographic literature from pornography, and is one of those pieces of writing where you come from feeling you have learned to see things in new ways and in new contexts without having to do much work. Actually, you should emerge from the whole book as if you have just had your eyes given a good wash, and maybe feel a bit sort of guilty and ashamed. For it is so much a fun experience, and, God forgive us all, a work that pleasures us as it devours us, itself and literature.
The Pornographic Imagination by Susan Sontag
The Metaphor of the Eye by Roland Barthes
Marion Boyars Ltd, London, 1979